TV review: Indian Summers, Channel 4
Lukewarm dip into the muddy waters of British colonialism
It would be fair to say that Channel 4 are banking on Indian Summers being one of their hit drama series for 2015, given that a reputed £14m has been shelled out on its production. A quick scan of its cast list suggests that the loot hasn’t gone on signing up household names with Julie Walters the only star to tick that box; though once the ball gets rolling, many of the actors will possess familiar faces.
Costume and location (plus possibly air conditioning and barley water) have probably swallowed the bulk of that budget with Malaysia doubling as India for this ten-part series set in 1932 just at the point where British governance is starting to seriously buckle. Not that you’d immediately know it given the lavish parties and singalong soirees most of the ruling classes in this Little England enclave of Simla are indulging in here: Walters is given free rein to bash out a piano-based mockney song or two as this fake society’s improbably named doyenne, Cynthia Coffin.
Though when an attempt is made on the life of a viceroy-in-making (Henry Lloyd-Hughes’ slimy civil servant Ralph Whelan), the cat is well out of the bag that the locals might not actually be too keen on their colonial masters. Inevitable comparisons will be made with ITV’s 1984’s dying-days-of-the-Raj landmark, The Jewel in the Crown, but this show’s mastermind Paul Rutman has been at pains to insist that Indian Summers is more intent on portraying the daily lives of those under the British cosh.
And while an argument could possibly be made for that, the opening episode’s focus is so stretched as to be both meaningless and emotionally empty. Other than offering a selection of cut-out characters with whom it’s impossible to care too much about, there’s little real sense of a bubbling uprising. Episode two might be a mild improvement, but loses all credibility with a scene where Whelan is allowed to enter the cell of his would-be assassin completely unprotected. Emerging bloodied and shellshocked, Whelan looks like he’s ploughed through the first two hours of this extravagant failure.
Indian Summers starts on Channel 4, Sunday 15 February, 9pm.