A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
May contain spoilers.
The series finale of this ITV/PBS show recently aired in the U.S. after only two seasons, which was disappointing, but falling ratings and expensive filming in Malaysia worked against it, though at one time it was touted as a replacement for the “Downton Abbey” slot. A fellow American told me she didn’t watch because she didn’t know much about the history of Anglo-Indian relations, but the same couldn’t be said about audiences in the U.K., where ratings had also declined. I think the real reason this program wasn’t more popular is because the characters couldn’t be clearly labeled as good or bad. They were complex and slowly revealed and viewers couldn’t tolerate that for whatever reasons.
It’s the waning days of the Raj and everyone moves into the cooler hills of the fictional territory of Simla, India to escape the summer heat. A government official, Ralph Whelan is the center of the story and all of the other characters are spokes of that wheel. The actor who plays him(Henry Lloyd-Hughes) resembles a younger, taller Ralph Fiennes, so that was fun for me, though in the second season, his hair was darkened and slicked back, more resembling a silent movie star and less of Fiennes, unfortunately. His parents were also part of the ruling class, so he grew up in India and as the first episode opens, his sister, Alice, is returning there from England, where she had married and has a young son. At first, I mistook Alice as a fluffy bimbo, but that is a false impression. Working with Ralph is the handsome Aafrin, a Parsi Indian civil servant with unclear loyalties. His relationships with the Whelans are complicated, but he is very close with his own family; his doting parents and sisters, one of whom, Sooni, is a Modern Woman who secretly supports India’s independence. Both families gather at The Club, a recreational outpost run by Cynthia, played wonderfully by Julie Walters. Cynthia is a bigoted opportunist, with a seemingly unhealthy interest in Ralph and her outrageous comments and machinations provides not only comic relief, but sometimes catalysts for explosive confrontations.
The show certainly didn’t whitewash the British attitudes towards the natives and the negatives of colonialism, including a vastly imbalanced judicial system. In one story line regarding aspects of that, an awkward Scotsman(Ian McLeod), who comes out to visit his uncle’s tea farm and never leaves, becomes an unlikely hero and ends the first season on a note of somber triumph. It was one of several moments that sparked tears in me. That was one of the things this show did best, forge moments of empathy with unlikely characters. The other thing it did was imbue everything with exotic flavors; the stunning scenery, the music, the architecture and clothing. It really did transport the viewer to the East.
But what this show did most of all, was create multidimensional characters with secrets which were slowly revealed. And that is partly what turned viewers off, though I’m not sure why, perhaps too much realism? Or was it that often our first impressions were proven wrong? Granted, both responses are not part of an easy escapism, but they are an element of a well written drama and it’s unfortunate that more people were not willing to stay with it long enough to become engaged. As for me, I am disappointed that the show was not able to complete the planned story arc and ended prematurely, but I’m pleased that for awhile at least, I was able to enjoy “Indian Summers”.