Indian Summers, Season 1 (2001)
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Watching this series, you'd think every English soul was a racist. I'm not sure that has been true over the centuries, but it is certainly true of the entire white cast of characters, set as British colonists in India around the time Ghandi started his peaceful protests. India is in civil upheaval. The English are struggling to maintain control, and cracking down on "troublemakers" (often women giving speeches, who are hauled off to jail for six months).
Cynthia (Julie Walters) is the unofficial matriarch of society, the owner of the club in which most social events transpire for the wealthy Europeans that take summer homes away from the heat and noise of the larger cities. She arrives, as usual, to find the place in shambles, monkeys having had the run of the house for months, and quickly puts it to rights. Most of her focus is in ensuring ambitious young Ralph Whelan (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) scales the ladder of power. Unfortunately for both of them, he has a secret that will soon turn up, dusty-footed, on their front doorstep.
Ralph's sister Lucy (Jemima West) has a secret of her own -- she has left a perfectly decent husband to come back home to India. She soon finds herself in the midst of the social crisis, when a man is shot right in front of her, presumably protecting her brother from assassination. Aafrin (Nikesh Patel) is a part-time artist, working a desk job in her brother's governmental department. His sister is in and out of trouble, often siding with the protestors. He is also seeing a woman below his "caste," yet feels strongly drawn to Alice for some reason neither can explain. Then, there is Sarah (Fiona Glascott), the bored wife of a missionary who is developing feelings for an Indian beauty. Desperate for friendship, she seeks ways to manipulate Alice into spending time with her. Meanwhile, Cynthia ensures that Ralph spends a lot of time with Madeline (Olivia Grant), since she sees potential in them to become a power couple in Indian politics.
This is a sprawling, complex series with a lot of detail to the political upheavals at the time, in an exotic setting. It has a diverse cast and an interesting sequence of events. It does not explain much, which keeps you guessing and watching as events unfold. The costuming is marvelous and the cast terrific. It's just a shame I didn't like anyone all that much. I felt little empathy for anyone's plight, although they did tug my heartstrings from time to time. Just about when I started warming up to Ralph, he commits an atrocity that sent him back to my black list. Most of the motivations here are selfish, and the series shies away from any true insights into faith, or exploration of desire in comparison with duty, by having a rather bland "missionary" subplot. I felt like the sex scenes were there to distract from hazy character development. There's no truth, although there is an awful lot of latent racism to get your blood boiling.
Frequent, explicit sex scenes, with movement and noises, often that go on for some time -- at least a half dozen, one per episode. A man tries to blackmail a woman into giving him sexual favors; he puts his hand between her legs. Some involve adulterous encounters.
Jesus' name is abused a dozen times; God's name combined with damn twice; general profanities and racial slurs (n*gger is used once).
A woman is forcibly held underwater until she drowns; a man is shot; another is found with his throat slit; we see a man graphically hanged for a murder he did not commit (his feet and body twitch until he suffocates); a man shoves another man down the stairs for bothering his sister; fist-cuffs wind up with a man having a heart attack.
Murder, deceit, blackmail, adultery, an unjust due process in civil government, covering up crimes, and racism.