If there is anything that I like more than reading about people with romantical problems in olden times, it’s watching programs about people with romantical problems in olden times. Lucky for me, Masterpiece Theatre on PBS specializes in those kinds of dramas. After giving us Poldark, a sweeping saga set in Cornwall in the late 18th century, this Sunday, we are introduced to Indian Summers, a nine-episode drama set in India in 1932. Indian Summers seems designed to appeal to the Downton audience, and it’s already been picked up for a second series. The series will be paired here with Home Fires, a drama revolving a rural English village on the verge of the Second World War. A two for one on Sunday night!
This series seems to have everything that I love: glamorous clothes, an exotic locale, and gorgeous people suffering. Not to mention secrets, intrigue and forbidden love! And more important, diversity! It’s nice to see a series that is not all white and set in olden times. And it stars Mrs. Weasley (Julie Walters) as Cynthia Coffin, the Queen of Simla society who runs The Royal Simla Club with a well-manicured fist. Cynthia (according to the series website) is “prepared to remove anything–or anyone–that stands between her and prosperity.” Ooh, hello! I’m all for watching Julie Walters chew the scenery wearing slinky gowns. Frankly, I would watch her read the phone book and I love the fact that one of the leads is a woman of a certain age.
While India dreams of Independence, the British are still clinging to power. In the coolness of the foothills of the Himalayas sits Simla (now called Shimla), where the sweaty British power-brokers governed during the summer to escape the sweltering heat. Even though the English seem to have loosened both their ties — and their inhibitions — while in India, the local population isgetting a little tired of their British overlords and has started agitating for them to get the hell out. An idea that those in power were loath to contemplate.
The fact that the series is told from both the English and the Indian perspectives is what makes this drama even more intriguing. Aafrin Dalal is a rising star in the Indian Civil service, while his hotheaded and rebellious sister Sooni is clearly not happy that he is working for the enemy. So not only do we have conflict between the English and the people they rule, but we also have family drama! Will Sooni’s actions ruin Aafrin’s career? And how does Aafrin feel when he discovers he is being used as British propaganda to destabilize the growing independence movement? Aafrin falls in love with Alice Whelan, recently arrived in India with her young son fleeing a bad marriage back in England. Alice is also the sister of rising star Ralph Whelan, secretary and possible successor to the Viceroy of India. But Ralph seems to be one of those upper class Englishmen whose looks and charm hide the serpent underneath. He is also a protégé of Cynthia Coffin who manipulates and blackmails to help further his career. I imagine all kinds of skullduggery will be going on. There are even two Americans in the series, Eugene Mathers, an architect who was struck down with malaria while working in Delhi, and his sister Madeleine who travels all the way to India to take care of him.
The series received mixed reviews from the critics in the U.K., but I’m willing to give it a shot. If you loved The Jewel in the Crown, A Passage to India, Heat and Dust or even Gandhi, or were a huge fan of M.M. Kaye’s The Far Pavilions you will want to set your DVR for Indian Summers this Sunday.
Elizabeth K. Mahon is the author of SCANDALOUS WOMEN: The Lives and Loves of History’s Most Notorious Women (Perigee, 2011) and the founder of the blog Scandalous Women, launched in the fall of 2007 to an audience eager to discover some of history’s most fascinating and flagrant women. @scandalwomen