During the stifling Indian summers, the British rule moved from New Delhi to Simla, in the foothills of the Himalayas. At the start of the summer of 1932, Cynthia, owner of the famous Royal Simla Club, is readying her establishment for the season. Private secretary to the Viceroy, Ralph Whelan, welcomes his sister Alice, who has left England for mysterious reasons. Also moving to Simla are Indian clerk Aafrin and his family, including his British-minded father and his rebellious sister. As the temperatures rise, so will the tensions in this idyllic place, especially when Ralph is attacked by a mysterious gunman at the first night of the season.
Indian Summers is a production from Channel 4, a British channel whose series are often less well known than the BBC or ITV productions. The time period and setting of Indian Summers intrigued me enough to give this series a try. And I did really enjoy it, which is an interesting thing to say for a series in which I loathed most of the characters! Watching Indian Summers is a bit like watching a train about to wreck: it's not pleasant, but sort of intriguing and you just can't look away.
Let's talk about the characters first. Cynthia (played by veteran actress Julie Walters) is like a study in contrasts. To the outside world, the customers of her club, she's a respected hostess, maybe the heart of Simla. It's only as you get to know her better as the series moves on that you see what an utterly nasty person she is! Julie Walters clearly enjoyed playing such a layered character, she was intense, especially in her scenes with Ralph (Henry Lloyd Hughes). Ralph himself is another complex character, you think you hate him in the first episode, but then you sort of start to feel sorry for him as well when you learn more about his history. Who could most easily be described as the hero and heroine of Indian Summers season 1 are Alice and Aafrin. But even they are shown to have hidden motives and ugly sides. For me it was the first time seeing the actors Jemima West (Alice) and Nikesh Patel (Aafrin). I thought they did very well with their complex roles and I would love to see more of their work in the future.The character I liked and respected most was Ian McLeod, the alcoholic Scot who stubbornly defends his Indian friend who is wrongly accused of murder. His persistent fight for justice was the moral heart this series needed.
The setting of this drama is lush and beautiful. The contrast between the extreme Britishness of the houses in Simla and the 'Indian' setting (though the series was actually filmed in Malaysia) adds to the tension in the storylines. The costumes are really lovely, from Cynthia's slightly old-fashioned flapper wear to Alice's flowery dresses. I must say that I know very little about the colonial history of India, so I can't say how historically correct Indian Summers is, but I felt I got a bit of an insight into the period, definitely without sugarcoating.
There is also an Indian Summers season 2, which I'm definitely going to watch. I'm curious, has any of you readers seen this and what did you think of it?