With the popularity of period dramas surging dramatically in recent years, it came as no surprise when Channel 4 announced their latest and most expensive production yet, Indian Summers. Replacing Downton Abbey’s primetime location on a Sunday evening and with a budget of reportedly £14 million, there were undoubtedly some reservations about its potential success. However, an outstanding cast set within a truly striking landscape has made for one of the best historical dramas of late.
Focusing on the end of British imperialism in India from 1932, this 10-part series starts with the annual move to Simla, where the British elite spend their summers away from the heat of the city. The drama is focused on three families and their shifting sense of identity during this period, when significant change is imminent. With a large cast, our original introductions to the characters are brief and generally make use of stereotypes. Spread over 10 episodes, however, there will be plenty of time for the characters to be fleshed out and it feels like a deliberate choice rather than an overlooked aspect of production.
In fact, with so many characters to get to know, it was perhaps a wise idea to use stereotypes as a way of giving us recognisable characters. There’s the handsome Private Secretary to the Viceroy of India, Ralph Whelan (played by Henry Lloyd-Hughes); his mysterious sister Alice (Jemima West); the seemingly good-natured missionary Dougie (Craig Parkinson), and his unfriendly snobbish wife, Sarah (Fiona Glascott). Then of course there’s Julie Walters, who plays the fabulous Celia Coffin, the proprietor of the Royal Simla Club. It’s disappointing how little Julie Walters actually features – a lot of promotional material was focused on her character – but this does allow the talent of the lesser-known cast members to shine through, with stunning performances all round, in particular Nikesh Patel as Aafrin Dalal and Jemima West as Alice Whelan.
The pace of the first few episodes is undeniably slow for a drama, yet the spectacular scenery and the meticulous attention to detail make up for this and ensure that whilst the action is not always thrilling or captivating, it’s definitely worth watching for the cinematography alone. Besides, there are rumours that Indian Summers is planned to be made up of four series, following the 15 years up to the Indian Independence Act – as the British Empire deteriorates, there’s bound to be a stepping up of the action!
What’s more, the first couple of episodes alone have covered themes including politics, passion, class tensions, exploitation, attempted murder, and sex, so a slow pace definitely isn’t synonymous with tediousness – there really is something for everyone, and lack of previous knowledge of the period or culture is no excuse; the drama is a gentle introduction to the contrast between the British desperately clinging to the Empire, and those who find themselves fighting an arduous battle for independence. It is definitely worth a watch.