After notable appearances in Notting Hill (1999) and Iris (2001), Hugh Bonneville found global stardom as the Earl of Grantham in Downton Abbey. And he remains in period mode for the new film Viceroy's House, which dramatises the independence and partition of India in 1947.

Viceroy's HouseHugh Bonneville stars in 'Viceroy's House'

Of course, while he was filming the role, he couldn't have predicted how relevant the movie would be. "Any project you undertake, you have no idea how it's going to land," Bonneville says, "and then when it does land, what the ripple effect is. But it seems more pertinent than ever that this is a film about strife, division, neighbour turning on neighbour, lack of understanding of different communities within the same country. And those are the key notes that unfortunately chime within so many countries at the moment, not least the huge one across the pond."

He admits that these themes are secondary to the film's entertainment value. "Ultimately any film can only give you a bit of pleasure for an hour and a half in the dark. That's all it's meant to do," he says. "But if there is any message from a film like this, it's that tolerance and understanding is a damn sight better than ignorance and turning away. And building bridges is a damn sight better than building walls."

Watch the trailer for 'Viceroy's House' here:


In the film, Bonneville plays Lord Mountbatten, Britain's last viceroy in India, opposite Gillian Anderson as his wife Edwina. "She's so in demand," Bonneville says of his costar. "But she's tremendously focused with a great sense of humour. And like with all actors trying to play someone who existed, you're trying to get the right tone in spirit. I think, having talked with the family, both Edwina's daughter and grandson, and having read up on the Mountbattens and seen footage from that era, I think Gillian completely immersed herself in the role."

More: Read our review of 'Viceroy's House'

Since finishing work on Viceroy's House, Bonneville has heard rumours that Julian Fellowes is writing a Downton Abbey movie. "I'd love to see a script, but I've not seen anything like that yet," he says, noting that the cast still gets together regularly. "Downton was massively important, but I don't miss mornings shooting in Highclere, where it would be freezing cold well into spring."

In the meantime, Bonneville has returned to his leading role for the Paddington sequel and taken some time off. "I'm not very good with my down time," he laughs. "I didn't suddenly take up archery or anything. I stared at my garden thinking I need to tidy this up!"