by Allan Fish
(UK 1984 750m) DVD1/2
It’s Kumar, not Kumar
p Christopher Morahan d Christopher Morahan, Jim O’Brien w Ken Taylor novels “The Raj Quartet” by Paul Scott ph Jon Woods, Ray Goode ed Edward Mansell m George Fenton art Nick King, Vic Symonds, Alan Pickford cos Diane Holmes, Esther Dean
Tim Pigott-Smith (Ronald Merrick), Art Malik (Hari Kumar), Susan Wooldridge (Daphne Manners), Geraldine James (Sarah Layton), Charles Dance (Guy Perron), Peggy Ashcroft (Barbie Batchelor), Eric Porter (Count Dimitri Bronowsky), Saeed Jaffrey (Nawab), Rachel Kempson (Lady Manners), Rosemary Leach (Aunt Fenny), Nicholas Farrell (Teddy Bingham), Zia Mohyeddin (Mohammed Ali Kasim), Fabia Drake (Mabel Layton), Wendy Morgan (Susan Layton), Judy Parfitt (Mildred Layton), Om Puri (Mr De Souza), Anna Cropper (Nicky Paynton), Matyelok Gibbs (Sister Ludmila), Zohra Segal (Lili Chatterjee), Nicholas le Provost (Nigel Rowan), Stuart Wilson (Jimmy Clarke), Peter Jeffrey (Mr Peabody), Hilary Mason (Mrs Roper), Marne Maitland (Pandit Baba), Warren Clarke (“Sophie” Dixon), Janet Henfrey (Edwina Crane), Frederick Treves (Col.Layton),
The idea of filming Paul Scott’s series of novels set in imperial India was probably first formulated when Scott’s semi-sequel, Staying On, was filmed in 1980 with Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. The critical rapture surrounding Granada’s Brideshead Revisited was still raging when they announced this even more ambitious project. Just as Jane Austen would have here day in the nineties, the early eighties were definitely preoccupied with India, coming as it did in between Gandhi, A Passage to India and The Far Pavilions, with cast members often working on more than one of the quartet. Two years in the making, it was a gargantuan task to even capture the spirit of the chronologically tangled web of plots weaved by Scott, let alone to cut it down to 12½ hours of drama from what, if told with the same intricacy as Brideshead, would have been three times that.
As with the Forster/Lean book and film, the plot centres around the rape of an English girl and a false accusation made at an Indian. In Jewel, however, that forms but the first three episodes, as it occupied the first of the four novels, yet the spirit of that tragic love story, spanning class, race and even, at times, memory, hangs over the film like an omnipresent mist. It’s undoubtedly a somewhat unwieldy narrative, as befits such an episodic work, but the uniformly superb performances, often miraculous script and excellent, perfectly discrete direction, combine to produce an undoubted masterpiece of television and the greatest vision we will perhaps ever see of the old Indian Raj. It gets over the impact of history on the times, but rather shows the characters hearing of history, rather than taking part – the audience is told of the political situations of the story by the uncanny use of real-life newsreels. We see the likes of Nehru and Jinnah only in real footage, and thus the work delves deeper, into the subconscious of not only the Indian Raj myth under Mother Britain, but also gets to the heart of the gradual dwindling not just of British colonial rule but of the old class system itself. This is perfectly embodied in the figure of the tragic Hari Kumar, too British for the Indians and too Indian for the British, and his love affair with the wallflower Daphne Manners. The whole feature length opening episode is a masterpiece of acting and direction, often shot from the viewpoint of the servants (memorably through the window as Hari and Daphne dance to Glenn Miller) and not afraid to tell part of its story in flashback. For their part, Wooldridge (a perfect, bookish, but lovely Joyce Grenfell type) and Malik are perfect as the doomed couple and when the mantle is passed on, the rest of the cast match them, with James and particularly Dance offering intelligent, iconic portrayals and a memorable part for the great Peggy Ashcroft. Dominating all, however, is Pigott-Smith, a sadistic personification of imperialist repression for all time, a closet homosexual who just doesn’t fit in, and in the end a rather tragic figure. Few of the cast ever got such opportunities again, but in the course of the two years shooting, they made TV history.