This dramatic nine-part historical series recounts the 1930s summers spent at the station of Simla, in the foothills of the Himalayas, by a group of upper-crust British socialites as the ruling British Raj is beginning to wane. The spellbinding, well-researched saga with a cast of thousands is told from both the British and the Indian viewpoints. In addition to the serious clashes involving politics, race, class, caste and religion among the two populations, we are treated to the steamy, complicated private lives of the main characters.
Every summer, Ralph Whelan (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), the debonair Private Secretary to the Viceroy, and the rest of the Indian Civil Service and hangers-on escape the unbearable hot weather in Mumbai by moving to Simla, an almost eerie replica of a rose gardened and lawned English town, where the Indian population is only allowed after dark. The élite Royal Simla Club, the British meeting place, is run by the manipulative grande-dame of the social scene, Cynthia Coffin (Julie Walters, “Harry Potter,” Oscar® nominee for “Billy Elliot”).
Dazzling colors, gorgeous flowers and verdant scenery are ever present, as is the heat, while the snow-covered Himalaya Mountains form a dramatic distant backdrop. The British rule with a cavalier repression as though deaf to the groundswell of history that is about to overtake them. But we have the luxury of knowing their future, and that adds dramatic tension to the series.
Ralph is sharing his splendid mansion with his newly arrived, eye-catching though enigmatic sister, Mrs. Alice Whelan (Jemima West) and her baby son, but sans husband. Americans Madeleine Mathers (Olivia Grant) and Eugene Mathers (Edward Hogg), also brother and sister, entertain Ralph, particularly the sultry Madeleine, who is at his beck and call.
The final pair of sisters and brothers are the Indians, Aafrin (Nikesh Patel), a high-minded and diligent junior clerk, and his sister Sooni (Ayesha Kala), a revolutionary for Indian independence. Through Aafrin we see another kind of racial tension, since Aafrin is in love with a young woman from a lower caste who is unacceptable to his family.
The infelicitous and envious Sarah Raworth (Fiona Glascott) suffers while her missionary husband, Douglas (Craig Parkinson) has an affair with Leena (Amber Rose Revah), the beautiful and selfless Indian companion with whom he runs an orphanage. We know from the first episode on that Sarah is up to no good.
Many of us who have watched “The Jewel in the Crown,” “A Passage to India,” and “Gandhi” may wonder whether “Indian Summers” can add anything new to the genre. After watching the first somewhat slow episode, you may be tempted to give up on “Indian Summers.” But, don’t. It has more than enough style, suspense and thrills to keep one glued past the first episode. As the pace of the series quickens, there are many twists, turns and surprises. Reported to have been made at a cost of more than $25 million, the money was well spent. The acting is first-rate, the writing is tight and well-paced, and the cinematography and scenery are breathtaking. The series has already been renewed for a second season and there are plans for additional seasons to relate the whole story of India’s struggle for independence.
Emily S. Mendel
©Emily S. Mendel 2015 All Rights Reserved.