Gillian Anderson: “It’s Important The Full Truth Is Discussed”
by Katie Berrington
ONE of the most newsworthy issues of late, the topic of displacement is never far from headlines – particularly in light of the recent refugee crisis caused by conflict in the Middle East. It is also the subject of a new historical drama, Viceroy’s House, which details the partition of India in 1947, set in the Delhi palace of the last Viceroy and his wife – Lord and Lady Mountbatten. The role of the latter is taken by The X-Files actress, Gillian Anderson, who stars alongside Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville, as well as Manish Dayal and Huma Qureshi.
“When we were filming, the subject wasn’t as relevant as it is now,” Anderson told us, as we met to discuss the film. “It’s certainly become a topical issue, whether it’s the politics of division and fear, or we’re talking about immigrants and refugees. It is quite unique to be on a press tour with something that is so relevant and one can see a historical example of what doesn’t work and can start to ask the question: given that it hasn’t worked over and over again, how can we do things differently?”
Dealing with such a mammoth and complex part of history is a challenge – it is often described as the largest mass migration of people in history, with 14 million displaced as the border between India and the modern state of Pakistan was drawn up, leaving at least one million dead. The result is arguably a Downtonised take on it with the inner politics of the palace (the love affairs, the quarrels and the gossip) as central to the plot as the bloody civil war raging outside its walls. However, the overarching historical story is one that Anderson strongly feels is important to tell.
“It’s not only an important part of Indian history, that affected hundreds of millions of people, but it’s an important part of British history too – the impact that the decisions of a few had on so many,” she continued. “I think it’s important that the full truth of the matter is discussed and shown for people to see, so they can make up their own minds in terms of what transpired.”
The film’s closing credits include a tribute to a woman forced to flee her home with her children – the youngest of whom starved to death on the road. Her granddaughter, Gurinder Chadha, is the film’s director.
“Gurinder is obviously very, very passionate about the subject matter and about showing India in a light that is representative of the people,” Anderson continued, “so it’s wonderful to be part of something that has its foundations in something that’s not just historical but such a passionate subject.”
Anderson portrays Lady Mountbatten in the drama, a woman often remembered for her colourful private life – it is widely rumoured that she had an affair with Indian prime minister Nehru – however the film focuses on her forward thinking about human rights and her championing of refugees during the Indian conflict.
“She was ahead of her time, which really comes out in a lot of the books written by her,” Anderson explained. “It’s very clear how her tenacity and personality stood out at the time and that people really responded to it.”
Is there added pressure for an actress portraying a real person – whose daughters are still alive to judge the results – on screen?
“I think there is, I think there potentially should be. I found that, at a certain point, once you’ve done as much research as you can, you kind of need to leave that at the door though,” she told us. “It’s not about hoping for the best, but hoping your research has equated to the best version of it that you can hope to provide and you just have to let go of what the responses are and not let it haunt you.”
And is that something that she manages to do?
“I think so,” was her quiet response. “Although I say that and now that’s not going to be the case,” she said with a wry smile as she knocked on wood.
Viceroy’s House is in cinemas from March 3.