Raj feast well worth wait
CALL me a pushover but any TV drama series starting with the words “India, March 1932” will have me hooked. I won’t necessarily stay hooked though. The Far Pavilions, adapted for TV in 1984 from MM Kaye’s novel, had all the heat and splendour of that earlier raj- era telly epic Jewel In The Crown but somehow didn’t sparkle.
It’s been a long time since anyone in the TV drama world dared to “do” India again and many, like me, will have settled down to INDIAN SUMMERS ( Sunday C4) in the way football fans approach a cup final.
The opening did not disappoint. A small boy was being stoned by his fellow villagers. A pariah, we later learned, because of his Anglo- Indian ancestry. Chugging past him was a train, one end laden with Indians, the other with pink, wilting raj- types, heading for the summer to the cool of Shimla hill- station.
A giant party at Shimla’s club pulled all the raj- types together: the missionary’s lonely, curdled wife, the troubled Under- Secretary and the fresh- faced lad from the Clyde.
Meanwhile, in the “natives” part of town, rumours of cholera, anti- British graffiti and a Parsee clerk in love with a Hindu beauty.
I wouldn’t say this offers anything you wouldn’t find elsewhere in the raj- genre of novels, films and TV series. I would not, also, call that a bad thing.
As the great chefs know, it’s often best to serve a classic dish, humbly, without any fancy touches.
That said, there is, along with the enduring India themes, a kind of freshness, which comes mainly from the casting.
If the BBC was knocking this one out they’d stuff it with every luvvie from Shepherd’s Bush to Bombay and the result, rather like Downton Abbey, would be a bunch of luvvies having a glorious time overacting together.
Apart from Julie Walters as club hostess Cynthia Coffin and Craig “Line Of Duty” Parkinson as troubled missionary Douglas, this isn’t one of those shows likely to be interrupted by your fellow viewers going “Ooh, she’s in it!” every two minutes.
They’re likely to be silent, enjoying, like you, a raj feast as classic as kedgeree eaten under a slow ceiling fan.
It’s dangerous ground, reviewing a TV drama that’s been adapted from a book. I usually haven’t read the book in question, indeed, I consider reading it to be very much not a part of the TV critic’s role.
I’m aware, however, that THE CASUAL VACANCY ( Sunday, BBC1) turns out differently to JK Rowling’s novel.
If it were my novel, I have to say, I’d shut up and take the money and perhaps JK Rowling has taken that view herself. I certainly don’t see why the author should be unhappy about most other aspects of this light and dark, village- life saga.
The bumptious, pompous machinations of the Pagford Parish Council carry a flavour of that old classic Clochemerle, whose characters were scandalised over plans to erect a public urinal in a sleepy French village.
In this case, it’s a community centre, gifted to the village by a Victorian philanthropist and now, despite being vital for the less fortunate, up for grabs.
Nicely cast, splendidly scripted, the BBC hasn’t put a foot wrong.
Unless you count the time- slot, exactly the same as Indian Summers. A blunder that makes me wonder if there’ll be vacancies in the scheduling department.