Sunday night has become the most expensive night in TV history. On BBC One there’s The Night Manager (£20 million for the whole series), ITV boasts Doctor Thorne (£3 million) and Channel 4 is thought to be spending around £14 million on Indian Summers.
The money is best spent on the latter. Set in the dying days of the Raj and filmed in Malaysia, this is exactly the kind of period epic that the English do so well. Never has the oppression of a foreign people been dramatised so prettily. It makes one proud to be British. Some critics say that Indian Summers is too PC to produce decent characters – that the Indians are just romantic revolutionaries, while the British are either stupid or evil (and Julie Walters shines like obsidian as Cynthia Coffin, the wicked matriarch of the local club). I don’t agree.
The show does a good job of depicting Englishmen who happen to find themselves elevated to the status of gods and aren’t quite sure what to make of their luck. Some exploit it, others laugh nervously. The local nationalists are divided about tactics and sometimes, against their better instincts, a little flattered by the attentions of what EM Forster described as a “pink-grey” race.
It’s the Savile Row clothes that really cast a spell. The Anglo-Saxons in Indian Summers never seem to break into a sweat. They wear their three-piece suits as comfortably as a second skin.
Sunday night remains the nostalgia slot. Indian Summers is a reflection upon our imperial past; the Doctor Thorne of Trollope is a brief Ruritanian curiosity; The Night Manager is pure Bond – the sets and suits seemed culled from the 1960s, the lead character stepped out of an H Rider Haggard novel. Is there any other country’s television that is so obsessed with the past (excluding Germany, for all the wrong reasons)? I suspect not.
We have very little good to say about our own history – with its racist memsaabs and brutal viceroys – and yet it’s to our history that we constantly return.