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The author’s real name is Carolyn Heilbrun, the detective Kate Fansler


Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) of Prime Suspect fame

Friends and readers,

An interim blog: this is me thinking out a few semi-conclusions I’ve come to after a couple of months of reading books about women detectives (history, literary criticism, culture, feminist) and reading and rereading a few such books by men and women. As I’ve written on my Sylvia I blog, I seem to be going through something of a transition after living in this world without Jim for some 9 plus years. Part of this is I am liking books I used to not be able to read, and able to accept optimism and at least sympathize with (understand in a new way from an outward transactional POV) some conventional transactional pro-social-ambition perspectives.

To get to the point here, I find that I can’t resist reading and watching new kinds of material in the detective, mystery-thriller, spy genre kind, which I’ve come back to seeing as closely allied to the gothic. Not that I altogether rejected books with women detectives at the center: my first Internet pseudonym was Sylvia Drake, a minor character in Dorothy Sayer’s Gaudy night, and my gravatar for my political blog is a small picture of Harriet Walter as Harriet Vane looking thoughtful.


From Strong Poison: she is supposed the murderer and this is in prison, she is talking to Lord Peter Wimsey (Edward Petherbridge)

The reading came out of my preparing for my coming The Heroine’s Journey course this winter. As you can see, if you go over the look, there is no example among my four slender book choices of a female detective novel. That’s because I couldn’t think of one slender enough for such a short course until I came upon Amanda Cross’s (aka Carolyn Heilbrun’s) Death in a Tenured Position. Most recent and older female detective novels are average size, say 350 pages (Gaudy Night is about this size) because often many combine a “novel of manners” (or domestic romance) with the detective formula. But I found it to be a central category because since surfacing in novels in the 1860s, the type has multiplied in appearances until say today there may be several TV shows featuring a female detective available all at once.

Although I’ve found dictionary-type books with lists and essays on women writers and their detective novels (Great Women Mystery Writers, ed Kathleen Gregory Klein, truly excellent; By a Woman’s Hand by Jean Swanson and Dean James, 200 short entries which have the merit of naming the author as well as the detective and offering enough information to give the reader a gist of what type of mystery fiction this is), it has been very hard to find any essay-like books treating just the category of female detective fiction by women writers. The nature of the material (influences, who’s writing what, movies as a group-creation) has led to many male writers putting female detectives at the center of their series, and many female writers putting male detectives, and these mixed gender creations (so to speak) are often superb in all sorts of ways.

One of my felicitous reading and watching experiences this past year was Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders (both book and film), which features a private detective, Atticus Pund (spelt without accents) in a 1950s novel as part of an investigation into a parallel murder today by the old trope amateur sleuth, Sue Ryland in (presumably) 2021 — for its witticism, self-reflexive uses of the core fantasies, styles and yes multi-gender empathies.


Sue Rylands (Leslie Manville) is also intended to appeal to older unmarried career women (the spinster trope transformed & modernized at last)

But as there is a real, findable, and demonstable fault-line and difference between male and female writing, and films made by mostly men or mostly women, and visual art, and music too, and one of my aims as a teacher and writer is to keep women’s literature alive and make it more respected; I’ve been after just the books by women albeit in a multi-gender context. I’ve also tried to stick to films where the central author originally (or continuously) is a woman, and evidence shows women directing, producing, doing set design. The qualification here is all of these are shaped by the kind of detection mystery genre the book/film is written in. I’ve followed Andrew Marr centrally here; Julian Symons’s Bloody Murders is also indispensable.

I’ve come to a few tentative conclusions.

I agree in part with Kathleen Klein’s brilliant analysis (The Woman Detective: Gender and Genre) of the depiction of female detectives mostly in books, but equally by men and women that often these may easily be read and are in fact intended (when conscious) as anti-feminist (meaning the movement for independence and equality) portrayals from a male (in some eras on TV lascivious) POV.

This POV is on display in right now in the incessant arguments and brutal put-downs of Miss Eliza Scarlet (the ever patient Kate Phillips has played many an wholly abject woman, from Jane Seymour in the recent Wolf Hall, to Tolstoy’s hero Andrei’s long-suffering wife, the 2016 serial by Andrew Davies) by “The Duke” Inspector Wellington (the pugnacious, overtly insulting professional police detective played by Stuart Martin, doubtless chosen for his resemblance to the matinee idol type, Richard Armitage) who reiterates constantly a woman cannot be both a real or natural or happy woman and a detective; who needs strong men around her to protect her. Injury was added to insult in the most recent episode (Season 3, Episode 2) where a story was concocted whereby a mean and bullying ex-friend, Amanda Acaster, who repeatedly humiliated and nowadays derides her, is also used to criticize adversely Eliza’s character: Eliza is supposed now to have felt for Amanda trying to have a career using the same manipulative amoral tactics she did when the two were young. She is not charged though her measures were what encouraged a gang of thieves to use her restaurant as a front.  But look she surpasses Eliza in the Victoria sponge cake line. The costuming of the program shows some knowledge of the illustrations for such stories in the 1870s/90s, the music is very good, and lines are witty (though usually at Eliza’s expense) and I’d call the presentation stylish. I have spent this much time on it as it’s contemporary and its perniciousness extends to endorsing bullying and mocking non-macho males (Andrew Gower as a homosexual man controlled by his mother).

In many of these detective stories especially the hard-boiled type, and since the 1990s, the woman simply takes on male characteristics, and when she doesn’t and displays genuine female psychology, set of values, life experiences, and is as competent as the males and not just by intuition, by the end of a given book or series, we are to see she has not lived a fulfilled life, which must include marriage and motherhood. This is how Prime Suspect finally ends. In medias res, the female detective of whatever type is often allowed genuine common women’s lives characteristics and we see themes and archetypes familiar in women’s literature, e.g., recent film instance of the mother-daughter rivalry paradigm in Annika where the older heroine is divorced and lives with her teenage older daughter. There is now a line of disguised lesbian socially-conscious fiction, e.g., Val McDermid, seen in film recently featuring Karen Pirie played by Lauren Lyle, of Outlander provenance, dressed in unemphatically non-binary ways

But I don’t agree wholly with Klein (or others who write from her vantage). At the same time, the way out is not to trivialize and pretend to treat as playful amusement “the lady investigator” and her now many daughters, grand-daughters and great-grand-daughters, all the while lightly coming to the same conclusion as Klein, with some face-saving and genuinely rescuing qualifications. This is the vein taken by Patricia Craig and Mary Cadogan in their The Lady Investigates: Women Detectives and Spies in Fiction: a very informative as well as insightful book; it covers amateur and private detectives as well as the spy genre, which Klein does not. Nor is it to ignore this aspect of the genre altogether: Lucy Worsley in her Art of Murder manages this, at the same time as she (curiously) denies that the mass audience for this kind of thing understands it as fantasy (that most murders are not solved, and when solved not by brilliant ratiocinative nor super-scientific techniques, but rather information from people involved) but out of a thirst for violence and fascination with death (this does ally it to the gothic).

What we need to remember is the history of the genre: it first emerges in the later 19th century when women could get jobs and income on their own, go to college as woman (usually women’s colleges). The whole larger genre of detective fiction develops its characteristics when you first have men hired in visible numbers and a real police force. So there were male models for male detectives but no female models for female detectives. This changes (Miss Scarlet and the Duke is quite a startling throw-back) post-World War II when women held on to their array of male jobs and began to be hired, however slowly, and to be promoted to managerial positions in institutions, including the police (Lynda LaPlante modelled Jane Tennison on an actual woman detective).

I suggest that the woman detective was an popular substitute for the “new woman” so distinguished by feminist literary scholars of the 1890s (which never achieved much popularity or was not lasting); she becomes liberated and a real woman as women in our western societies begin at any rate to achieve the right and education for financial and some real sexual independence. We see this in Horowitz’s Sue Rylands and I hope to show other women detectives from the post World War II era.

So as a follow-on from this framework, I hope from time to time to write blogs here when the writer is a male and the portrait less than really feminocentric; on detective fiction found in both books and films; and on Reveries under the Sign of Austen (when the writer is female and the work genuinely l’ecriture-femme, which includes for me a genuinely anti-violence, anti-war and pro-woman political POV, which by the way I do think Prime Suspect was and is: Gray Cavender and Nancy C Jurik’s Justice Provocateur: Jane Tennison and Policing in Prime Suspect. The victims in these shows are often women tortured by male violence, young children, including boys destroyed and warped by male pedasty, immigrants, mostly women working menial jobs desperately, and yes prostitutes too, and women who murder (including one semi-accidental infanticide) too.

First up for Austen Reveries will be Amanda Cross’s Death in a Tenured Position and, for this blog, the older masterpiece, Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time (Inspector Alan Grant investigates the character of Richard III)


Of course Josephine Tey was a pseudonym; the author’s real name was Elizabeth Mackintosh, and the photo is of Jennifer Morag Henderson who wrote an excellent biography

Ellen

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Jo (Maya Hawke) in the 2017 British TV serial version of Little Women: opening Christmas scene anticipating the war to come

Gentle friends and interested readers,

For this Christmas I researched into two of Trollope’s little or lesser-known Christmas stories, especially his two American civil war Christmas “The Widow’s Mite” and “The Two Generals.” I had been taking a course in the politics of the 30 year period leading up to the Civil War, and had realized I had misunderstood some of the finer points of Trollope’s two Christmas stories whose context and settings were that of the US Civil War. So when I became aware that no one in our online every-other-week Trollope reading group (sustained by the Trollope Society) had volunteered to discuss “Christmas at Kirby Cottage,” I volunteered to talk of these two powerful and in our era newly relevant Christmas war stories.

My interest in Trollope’s Christmas stories is nothing new for me (scroll down to “Christmas stories”). I’ve been very interested in Victorian and Edwardian Christmas stories, and had over several years led groups of people on my listserv to read not only Trollope’s but other 19th century writers’ Christmas stories. I was fascinated by their connection to the gothic, for many of them are ghost stories. Dickens’s toweringly famous A Christmas Carol is a ghost story (at least 4 of them) whose difference and deep appeal derives from the ghosts acting in redemptive ways — in most ghost stories, including those written for Christmas, the ghost is a revenant coming back seemingly to retaliate on some unpunished crime or evil act, but where the ghost hits out hard on some innocent person who just happens to be around when this ghost arrives.

The effect is often Kafkaesque, with reactions of the characters in the story to the readers listening from uncanny-terrifying to unnerving irretrievable loss to mind-pausing endlessly disquieting unforgettable enigma. I recommend my reader try the ghost stories of Sheridan LeFanu (collected as In a Glass Darkly), Margaret Oliphant’s Stories of the Seen and the Unseen, and the variously published ghost stories of Elizabeth Gaskell, and M. R. James. Our own modern rewrites of these that have become popular are similarly seriously intended traumatic ghost tales, e.g., It’s a Wonderful Life.

This kind of thing is not in Trollope’s repertoire. I cannot remember one re-telling of a dream or nightmare in all of Trollope’s 47 novels and 42 short stories. At the close of “Aaron Trow,” about an English worker who is turned into a raging terrorist after having been put for untold years in a convict prison; he is brutally murdered after he wreaked a violent disfigurement on a lone woman living on the Bermudas. We are told the dead man’s revenant (it is said) may be seen haunting the recesses of this remote place, but it’s not clear this isn’t rumor brought about by guilt of those who destroyed this man.

He found himself driven to write at least eight (eight are found in the Trollope Society edition), or ten — if you include two more which he denominated an Antipodes Christmas story and had published in a number of Good Words called Good Cheer for the Christmas market: Harry Heathcote of Gangoil and “The Telegraph Girl.” It’s my view Trollope did succeed in writing powerful memorable true Christmas stories a number of times — although none that I know of are cozy, magical or readily comforting. The best of them challenge us to think about what a Christmas story should be, what Christmas itself stands for in our imagination and experience, and push us into being better people.

His view of what a Christmas story should contain is found within a longer complaint he made about having to write stories to order for a Christmas market in these words fits these stories:

A Christmas story, in the proper sense, should be the ebullition of some mind anxious to instill others with a desire for Christmas religious thought, or Christmas festivities, – or, better still, with Christmas charity

As Christmas stories in Trollope’s mode, “The Widow’s Mite” questions the nature of charity. What is it? Why do we do it? How does it relate to sacrifice? “The Two Generals” is about a serious communal tragedy, a savage break-up of a society where we see the cost of sustaining and routing out a deeply unnatural evil which hurts too many people centrally, and against which when enough numbers of people objected deeply, has become unbearable. Both are very Trollopian tales with Trollopian political and social complications and tropes — though the core matters, desperate poverty and chattel slavery, are unusual.

For example, Trollope in both stories has a pro-union or abolitionist heroine marry a pro-confederacy pro-slavery male. This is very like what he does in The Warden: there he exposes the exploitation and greed of the church by showing how an income meant to support elderly impoverished workers has become a large income for a wealthy cleric in a caste patronage system; but since Mr Harding is such good and well-meaning man, and we are told (somewhat improbably) unaware of the evil he was perpetrating, we are thwarted from truly acting out the implied criticism of the church’s norms and structures themselves. Trollope is drawn to these perverse collocations. He thwarts us, in these two stores he presents two couples whose choices make it difficult for us to take a side.

I have wondered if these knots Trollope invents are ways his conservative POV amid a radical examination of issues prevents us from having a clear way to talk about it and supposedly act.

The two stories I researched are filled with a particular historical content — the US Civil War — which is today still wreaking racial class and regional repercussions in the US, and closely relevant to food insecurity, heat and electricity deprivation in the UK (class and income inequality). I hope I have given information enough to make clear the nuances in the depictions of the characters and their arguments in the two stories.

You may find the transcript and video on the Trollope Society website here

You can also reach the video of my talk on YouTube.

and the transcript by itself on academia.edu

https://www.academia.edu/93447840/Trollopes_American_Civil_War_Christmas_Stories_The_Widows_Mite_and_The_Two_Generals_

I wish all who read this a satisfying contented — peaceful, happy, joyous (if possible) Winter Solstice holiday and good year to come. The way I observe and participate is to watch Christmas movies. I began with John Huston’s The Dead last night and intend tomorrow night to re-see for an umpteenth time the 1951 British movie of A Christmas Carol (apparently originally titled Scrooge), featuring famously Alistair Sim.


Scrooge at first superficially unnerved by Marley’s ghost (Marley was dead, to begin with …. “)

Ellen

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A Whole Lot of Humbug (New York Times)

Dear friends and readers,

This NBC review of two new movies for the Christmas market is superb and ironic; at moments nearly scathing: Anibundel offers a sort of history of Dickens’s story in commercial terms (how many sold), a concise synopsis, and then these two new rewrites (?): Scrooge and Spirited, the animated one with a stellar cast (including Olivia Coleman and Jessie Buckley).

The irony of “Christmas Carol” reboots in the age of billionaires is “too bad neither “Scrooge” nor “Spirited” knows how:

https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/netflix-christmas-carol-reboot-spirited-misses-elon-musk-irony-rcna59889

Egbert says the ide of Spirited is there is a spirit industry in the business of redeeming a new miser each year; Metacritic finds Spirited a “whole lot of Christmas fun”


Scrooge, the animated one, is [more than] “slightly off key (another NYTimes review)

As Anibundel says, today’s super-rich are not finding redemption by being charitable …. I add they are not seeking redemption even …

FWIW, it seems from her description these contemporary versions have not made Scrooge into a miser. To make the “trick” work the very rich old man must both be a miser, seen as socially isolated, finamentally alone and somehow embittered.  Central to the assumptions of the modern versions of Dickens’s tale is it is terrible to be alone; to keep Christmas is to be with others in a kindly spirit.


Opening scene of 1951 movie

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FWIW, my feeling is Dickens’s story would have to be so changed to speak to people today that it would really take the sort of thing a brilliant sequel or post-text once in a long while does. Some new character or perspective not in the original, or some minor character. The new character or perspective is Mary Reilly (Valerie Martin) out of RLS’s Jekyll and Hyde. The minor characters. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Stoppard) out of Hamlet.


Donna Reed as the unmarried Mary in It’s a Wonderful Life

A minor character ignored is the woman Scrooge loved as a young woman and who rejected him, and is seen fleetingly working in a poorhouse. Why has no one thought to re-write a post-text centering on her? Give her a memorable name? Remember her in the last scenes of memory of in the presence of Christmas present? … Probably not, and this morning I cannot locate my DVD of the 1951 movie and this moment is nowhere on the Net. Only the absurd picture of George Bailey’s wife, unmarried, an old maid librarian (a fate worse than death in It’s A Wonderful Life); Scrooge’s ex- grown old finds worthy fulfilling self-sacrificing (of course) charity to be performed.

See my review of the British 1951 movie, A Christmas Carol, with the imitable Alistair Sim, where the film-makers and audience could still respond to Dickens’s ghost tale.


Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey

I’ve written many reviews of Christmas movies meant for the Christmas market and others which have become Christmas movies over the years. But as a reboot, It’s a Wonderful Life deserved a blog of its own.


Roubaix in A Christmas Tale (a recent favorite with me)

Ellen

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From the campaign to place a plaque in Westminster Abbey for Anthony Trollope

Friends and readers,

A briefer blog than usual (as to space): October 21, 2022, Kate Howe interviewed, the present Chairman of the London Trollope Society

Dominic Edwardes very perceptive on Trollope’s long fiction; he tells of Trollope’s place among his peers, his reputation then and now, his life, the mission of the Trollope Society to keep his books in print and read by as many people as the Society and internet can reach; Dominic also confides how he (DE) he came to read and love Victorian novels, then as among the best of them, Anthony Trollope, Dominic’s first introduction to the Society (he went to an event which he thought would be in costume and it turned out no such thing, so he was the only one there in costume) & what the Society is doing now: yearly dinner, lectures, trips, and a vast growing website where you find recorded information on Trollope’s fiction, on the illustrations to them, on editions, from many talks given at the every-other-week online general reading group, and information about other more local reading groups and lectures.

As prelude or preface to the interview, she includes a cornucopia of beautiful and effective illustrations from the fiction of the era — the sort of thing you find in the original illustrations to Trollope’s novels.


“Oh, George, if you knew all … ” (Francis Arthur Fraser, illustration for Trollope’s Golden Lion of Granpere, not included in Howe’s set, but the same sort of thing)

Posted by Ellen

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Hill Station still to be seen in Penang

I feel so sad I’ve finished these blogs. I want to know what happened to the characters under the pressure of WW2 and the changes inflicted on them by their friends, associates, surroundings. How they each reacted, what they became …

Dear friends and readers,

It’s overdue time to sadly finish my account of this sometimes sublime series, Indian Summers. Rhik Samadder said rightly of the first season, it was one of the most narratively satisfying dramas of British TV and of real interest in its depiction of the Raj, besides which, gorgeous; and from ordinary watchers on IMDB provided further rave reviews for the second, I’ll content myself with quoting “it’s a feast.”

One of the intriguing elements across the series which I’ve not mentioned thus far is many of the actors act against character; Julie Waters is a cruel hard woman, lonely, desperate (usually so humane); James Fleet an amoral sexual harasser (usually the one bullied), Art Malik a sybaritic amoral creep of a maharajah (usually austerely moral or the subaltern).


Lord Hawthorne (James Fleet) looking sinister!

Leena (Amber Rose Reevah)now gone to jail (because she protected Adam from Hawthorne’s rage when Adam burnt him for sexually harassing her) I believe would have been brought back, having been in prison and got out early.

I also loved how it ended so ironically: the white British who had been born in India leave their home (the club), but find they have no home in Britain they can or want to return to. The series is Anglo-Indian, yes about the English centrally, but seen from a very different angle, as the ruthless dangerous often harmful but finally relatively vulnerable oppressors.


Cynthia posed in her fashion show outfit captures something of this

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Indian Summers 2:6 The gift for the king

In this episode, half-way through our season, the stories come to a (literally) explosive climax. In this case it’s the information that Ralph gets from Aafrin about the bomb about to be set off during the celebration of the king’s birthday – or a jubilee. The two have a terrific quarrel when Aafrin admits he was not coerced, not originally, but they act together towards the end.


Ralph (Henry Lloyd-Jones) confronts Aafrin (Nikesh Patel)

King-emperor is so absurd as a title. Ralph sends Rowntree and his men to the tea plantation and elsewhere. They can find nothing. Naresh Banerjee (Arjun Mathur) is wandering about in a mad rage – tries to kill Sooni (Aysha Kala) but Ian McCleod (Alexander Cobb) is there and promptly tries to save her, and then chase Banerjee who is taken to jail, but cyanide is slipped into his hands and he dies before they can question him. The journalist is also following Sooni about – worried for her.


Ralph and Madeleine now Wheelan (Olivia Grant)

We watch all the characters behaving characteristically – Cynthia (Julie Walters) won’t leave the club house; Mr Dalal (Roshan Seth) scolds Alice (Jemima West) when she comes to the house in effect to try to win friends. Madeline (Olivia Grant) is doing her best to support Ralph. Mrs Raworth (Fiona Glascott) we are told has had her baby in Delhi – with Raworth (Craig Parkinson) now ever so eager to return to England and be a wonderful family man – he is the most pathetic of the characters . His wife despises him.

Banerjee has sent a small Indian boy off with his wagon and the lit bomb to blow at 4 pm. This provides the suspense of the second half of the episode. As luck would have it, the boy is just outside the compound when Raworth spots him, runs over to him, attempts to see what’s what and the bomb blows up – killing Raworth and the boy (several small Indian boys are simply blown up in this series).

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Indian Summers 2:7: The Proposal

The proposal is that in return for his support for the India Bill Ralph wants to pass in Parliament, the Maharajah (Art Malik) demands that Ralph let him go to bed with Madeline, Ralph’s wife. The whole hour is taken up with Ralph’s state of mind – on and off. It opens with his memories of his mother going to bed with Cynthia’s husband, and then ironically he is on the other side of the door by the end of the episode with Madeline and Maharajah on the other side. The maharajah’s mistress tries to goad Ralph into fucking her, and while he begins, he gives it up in disgust.


Sirene, her “real” name, something of a joke, said to be Phyllis, she is from Australia (played by the hard looking Rachel Griffiths)

Sirene rages within at this man she is mistress of who has no respect for her. Ralph is driven or needs get this position, the Viceroy, where the princely states will give up their independence because he’s in debut but also his father (he says) wanted him to have it (Viceroy) but it’s not clear if Ralph is remembering his legal father or the biological one (Cynthia’s philandering husband by whom she had no children). He is also bitter about Cynthia’s pressuring him all these years, about her manipulations. Early in the episode the maharajah goads Ralph into a game whereby they loosen a goat, tied up as a temptation to tiger and then replace the goat with a boy. The maharajah wants Ralph to use his own son, Adam (Dillon Mitra), but he demurs and uses Bhupi’s son. Yes both he and the maharajah stand there to shoot the tiger to stop it devouring the boy, but, as Bhupi (Ash Nair) says, if the boy was safe, why not use Adam? And it’s the maharajah who shoots the tiger. Bhupi is infuriated, but still obedient. Had there been more seasons eventually Bhupi would have rebelled.


Art Malik (the maharajah) — this is not from Indian Summers, but a minor role in Doctor Who Series 11 where he embodies just the type character we see him inhabit here

At the opening of the episode we see Aafrin sent away to Delhi to help with the earthquake. This is to get him out of the way after the bombing death of Raworth which Aafrin is partly responsible for. He is to make up his mind to be loyal to Ralph; he says he has but he has to reach Alice on the side. During the episode we again hear the misery of Alice on the other side of the same door (it seems) now being buggered and sadistically used by her mean vicious husband Charlie (Blake Ritson). For them the episode ends with Alice and Aafrin kissing and going off to that room, and from high Cynthia watches – rightly she loathes Charlie who needles her.

Soon after this first opening with Aafrin leaving, Sarah Raworth is found with her recently born baby living in quarters provided by Cynthia – or she’d be in miserable 3rd rate hotel. It appears that Sarah has not been told how her husband died. No one is willing to tell her Matthew (Connor McCrory) is finally coming home (India is home here) but when he does she at first instinctively (this is what she is) lies, tries to hide his father is dead. But the Sumitra (Anitha Abdul Hamid) who he clearly loves more and loves him is dressed in white mourning and manages to convey his father is dead. He demands how and now Sarah says she has no idea. We see that Matthew like his father is a truth teller, decent to the Indians, and will not pretend to the hypocrisies of this Raj.


We can see the young lover paradigm here between Sooni and Naseem Ali Khan (Tanmay Dhanania) — they are a contrast to the Maharajah and Sirene and also Ralph and Madeleine

Sooni is being pressured by her mother to marry another Pashi (with big eyebrows). This is a third new semi-comic substory for this episode. He is shown to be decent but what he wants is an obedient wife whose life is spent having children and serving him. Aafrin is not there to help her fend off the mother (Lilette Dubey). She visits the tea plantation and Ian manages to ask her to be his wife. She demurs and says she needs time to think about it. She goes to the newspaper journalist, Naseem Ali Khan , who seems to be the only person to take her politics truly seriously. Aafrin does but he does not see politics the way she does and tries not to confide in her, and Khan and Sooni go off to a gathering where Ghandi is coming to speak. A huge crowd. During their time together Naseem tells her he loves her, and she clearly responds to him …. She is the closest we have to a traditional heroine, including the many suitors. And if the proposal to Ralph is probably the one the title refers to, she has 3 proposals in this episode.

The way the details are brought in make me feel there is a novel or memoir Rutman was using – it would help explain many details outside the story line. I so yearn to know what happened to these characters’ stories as the years go by. That is what was intended.

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Indian Summers 2:8: The Birthday Party


You can glimpse the rocking horse being brought in

In this episode I find matter put before us which I both background and s a preparation for what’s to come. It’s a bit clunky (the way in the first season the film-makers did not manage to tell us who was who quickly enough). Perhaps this shows they knew they were not going to be renewed … or the lack of direct thrust is part of why they lost audience ….

For example, around the time Sooni rejects Ian McCleod, he has noticed (because he’s paying so much attention to her) that Bhupi behaves strangely around the river where Jaya was drowned. We realize Bhupi is led to go there regularly because he feels Jaya’s ghost is luring him there and he then re-enacts how he drove her into the river and thus she drowned. He didn’t quite himself kill her but of course he was responsible. Ian knows that’s where Jaya died because he has not forgotten Ramu Sood. He tries to grab Bhupi who flees. Well after rejection from Sooni, in town now (like his Scots uncle) Ian is drinking heavily and sees Bhupi from far, chases him down and demands to know who he is and whose servant Bhupi at first tries to avoid telling but then he’s Bhupinder and works for Ralph Whelan.

I suggest in the next season Ian would have brought this information out, wanted an article written by Khan, and the injustice of the murder of Ramu Sood come home to hurt the WW2 destruction of the Raj further.


Charlie Havistock (Blake Ritson) — this is very much against type (Ritson is usually sensitive and kind)

Things between Alice and Charlie come to a head – she cannot stand him, he loves to humiliate her and in front of others refuses to give her the money or permission to buy their son a wooden bike of some sort. She persuades Aafrin, home from Delhi, they must run away. Cynthia gets them secret tickets Alice couldn’t manage.

But on that night Charlie (ever following her) discovers they are gone within minutes and then breaks Sumitra’s hands (he has been paying for information and she has instead lied to him) and hurt Bhupi’s son whom Ralph was willing to use as a target to please the maharajah theirs. We see the anguished pain Charlie puts her through and after Charlie has raged into the room the pair thought they were safe in and waiting for a rickshaw (bad idea of Alice’s), and dragged Alice and his son away, We see Bhupi and Sumitra (Bhupi’s wife) commiserating. Bhupi is gradually having enough.

I suggest in the third season, maybe another 2-3 years on Bhupi and his wife would be angry revolutionary hindus. Like Aafrin has been half-heartedly. Oh they did have the birthday party, Charlie did himself buy the bike for the boy, and this was part of why the scheme to run away fails. There is a delay over getting the party started.

The plan was Aafrin would flee to Australia with Alice. Not such a crazy idea had they gotten to the boat to Bombay and then gotten onto another boat This is the one kind of thing Alice has dared – once before. But for Aafrin that means leaving his family who are economically dependent on him. Not only do they loathe the idea of an English daughter-in-law (the father tried to bully her away) but they need the income. He leaves but feels terrible. Sooni is also rebelling when she says she is going to marry the journalist, Khan: he is a Muslim and her mother hates. How can you be happy if you leave us broken-hearted asks the father. Well you shouldn’t be is not a strong enough answer.


Sooni and her and Aafrin’s father, Darius Dalal (Rosh Sethan) hugging — this is earlier and shows their affection for one another

Now Matthew Raworth’s son is home, he will not allow the hypocritical Sarah to lie and she keeps having to run away from him or shout him down. She can successfully half-lie about her relationship to her late husband, but she cannot get him to say he liked the English. He hated the school and does not want to go back. He is another figure who would have been central in season 3.


Cynthia losing out

Last there’s Cynthia insisting on pulling down a Indian flag put over the Club. Ralph cannot defend Alice because Charlie bankrolls him through influence in the bank and threatens to withhold approval. Ralph badly in debt and says he will not sell Chotipool (the house). Ralph’s bill fell on its face; no prince went for it even the man Ralph gave his wife to. Madeline says this prince hated you. And now it seems Cynthia is badly in debt too — she had hoped for Ralph to get that position so she could manipulate it into money for herself.

And then a reconciling wedding party to give hope for the future and good feeling as an ending: Sooni tells Aafrin they will be the pioneers of this new amalgam; we
see her dancing with her husband, Naseem Khan, and from Aafrin’s point of view Ian and Alice talking, moving as if to dance

They intermingle Indian (Muslim, Parsi) and English and Scottish in the closing wedding festival. I enjoyed this moment too.

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For Indian Summers Episode 9, Winner Takes All; and Episode 10: Leaving Home (ironic title) click (in the comments)


Making a little England … what the English tried to do

Ellen

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The first image we are confronted with: Aafrin (Nikesh Patel), not in a suit, but bare chested, typing a seditious pamphlet, with new Indian girlfriend, also a rebel against the British — he is somewhere in Bengal


Upon returning to Simla, now in the British suit, Aafrin is confronted by Alice (Jemima West), who has been coerced into accepting her abrasive sadistic husband, Charlie Havistock (Blake Ritson)

Dear friends and readers,

It’s been far more than a week since I last wrote about Indian Summers; more than a full month has gone by since I framed the series and summarized as well as evaluated the first half of Season 1, one of the finest series ever made, and its second half, a tragic and ironic denouement. In the series itself, it’s three years later, and we are startled to see as our first image, Aafrin, ever trussed up and respectful of the British, naked to the waist, living in what looks like a worn-down bedsit, with a Indian lover, Kaira Das (Sughandha Garg); he is typing a subversive pamphlet, which is about to be printed and distributed in the streets to stir up demonstrations as the possible new viceroy is due to come to Simla at any time. Aafrin looks hard, tough; he has been away from his parents for three years. Kaira is involved with a violent revolutionary we only glimpsed in the first season, Naresh Banerjee (Arjun Mathur).

We switch many miles and with Aafrin as our POV (he is our POV most of this episode) find Alice back with Charlie, the son she had fled with, Percy (Caleb Allen), a blonde toddler who we discover later is the reason she chose to stay with Charlie (so that she would not lose custody). We are soon immersed in the lives of the familiar characters whose circumstances appear to have changed far less.

I shall take it as propitious that I’ve not had time to finish this brilliant series with my readers — for in the interim, the queen (who would have been queen-empress as her father, George VI was king-emperor, if India had not achieved its independence before George VI died) died, Elizabeth II Windsor, causing what seemed the whole world to sit up, take notice, watch the official 10-days mourning of “a nation” and then see put on a spectacular ritual aired everywhere in the world on TVs, internet, cinemas, as a kind of last gasp of the Raj in spirit. And few as they were, we read and heard the voices of protest that called all this magnificent display so much hypocrisy, a vast disguise behind which the grossly unequal arrangements of colonialism and capitalism carried on, less unchanged than you might think (see the comments to my blog The Passing of Elizabeth II).

For myself I’ve determined I will do (if the OLLIs last) The British Indian Novel Take Two, having thought up four different novels/memoirs, books of essays (J R. Farrell, The Seige of Krisnapur; Kamala Markandaya, The Nowhere Man; Salmon Rushdie (nearly assassinated): Imaginary Homelands (a book of essays, columns, life writing); and Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowlands … . I have two 18th century epistolary novels & memoirs partly set in India and hope to get to them soon: Eliza Fay’s Original Letters from India, ed, introd E. M. Forster (!), and Phoebe Gibbes, Hartley House, Calcutta. Both by women. And found my copy of Emily Eden in virago about her time in India in the early 19th century, Up Country

So you see I’ve carried on reading and thinking, and am glad to return to watching, remembering, coming to terms with this more explosive season than the first. Let’s dive in. The second season’s episodes have acquired titles.

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Season 1, Episode 1: Three Years Have Passed. While it seems so much has changed, more thought makes one realize the same patterns, the same emotional relationships and conflicts are being repeated. Again Aafrin is torn. After three years he has taken up with a revolutionary woman in Bengal, and the man who has a plan to blow up the club or the Whelan house – we are shown that bunch of dynamite immediately. And again Aafrin finds himself over his head. He wrote the seditious page, typed it and brought it to the printer, but then he is identified and we are left wondering whether Ralph knows or not. He might. Ralph again this cagey ambiguous character with Cynthia Coffin, looking out for him, a very vicious yet older woman. We see her with two helpers humiliating an Indian man who is trying to get into the club. He has to have a coat of arms. He has to study something and know it. She tells Ralph to send the old Viceroy home, Willingdon (Patrick Malahide) – he has a heart attack when a toy grenade thrown at him. She is gearing up for seeing Ralph become the next Viceroy He’s not sure how to grab the position.


Cynthia (Julie Waters) watching Ralph intently

Madeleine, complete with ayah Bhupi’s wife, and a baby girl in tow, follows Ralph now. The horrible Sarah (Fiona Glascott) is as horrible. ow we see her stealing flowers from the gardens of the house she once lived in but no longer does. She had gone to England to leave her son there, and when she returned found the Dalal family installed. She is enormously pregnant, and has thus trapped Dougie (Craig Parkinson), who has separated himself from Leena and is nowhere to be seen. Instead Sarah sits teaching on a throne, “lessons” which consist of asking the children absurd questions, and laughing at them when they respond with “wrong” answers. She berates and condescends to them. Only a few have left as her pregnancy necessitates their return to England. Dougie is as pliable and useless, grieving over the loss of his school. And surprise, surprise Adam now a young adolescent has been taken into Ralph’s and now the Havistock home as another boy servant; soon he will be joined by Leena (Amber Rose Reevah), who avoids homelessness just, as governess to Alice’s child. It takes half the season for Madeleine to realize Adam is her husband’s son, but his behavior makes it obvious to those who know

The Muslim reporter, Naseem Ali Khan (Tanmay Dhanania) is still sniffing about. Ian (Alexander McCleod) now running his tea plantation, thoroughly his own man, who has not forgotten Ramu Sood. Sooni (Asha Kala) cannot be far away, still politically involved but cannot get Aafrin to tell her anything. Worst off is Alice: returned with a vicious spiteful sadistic husband who denigrates and spies on her, passive, giving in (we learn he buggers her regularly to hurt her) He works for a bank and we will soon learn that Ralph needs this man’s money. Rowntree (Guy Williams going about with his policeman intruding in Indian houses and bazaars, no need for a warrant and arresting supposed culprits.


Kaira has little sense of self-worth …

Season 2, Episode 2: Black Kite (code name for Kaira, who will not survive). Now we note subtle changes from the 1st season; new characters and new emphases. To the credit of the creator-writer Paul Rutman, there is an attempt to give nuance to the character of Cynthia Coffin so she seems more vulnerable and less powerful –- while at the same time as nasty, bullying and ruthless-racist as she had been. Ralph Whelan seems softened because he too is more vulnerable: a Lord Hawthorne (James Fleet) sent from the UK and parliament is either there to himself take over the viceroyship or check out if Ralph is “fit:” Hawthorne is not “radical,” does not wanting really to share power with the Indians (Muslim or Hindu), much less hand power over. We see him respond to Alice’s coaxing that he tell Adam that he is Adam’s father . When Adam is given a copy of a child’s classic owned by her dead brother, Madeleine takes it back. At the same time Ralph is pushing Aafrin to find the terrorist who printed the pamphlets (he knows or suspects that the writer is Aafrin himself).

Aafrin is again like Alice, easily vacillates, easily blackmailed. We are shown more closely a male of pure evil for the first time (like Captain Merrick in Jewel in the Crown. Naresh Banerjee is a crazed terrorist, and when he is shot down by the British (using the excuse Rowntree believes Banerjee spread the pamphlets), Aafrin saves Banerjee’s life, but in ironic reciprocation Banerjee plucks Kaira back from the safety Aafrin had tried to send her to — as she has also been a mole for Whelan (she too has a son to protect). Aafrin had tried to placate the man, first finding a file to satisfy him (that’s an obvious thing Aafrin should not have done, it implicates him too) and when Banerjee uses the information to threaten Kaira as the Black Kite or mole Aafrin desperately says he fabricated the whole file. At this Banerjee coolly shoots Kaira through the head.

The count of those ruthlessly unfairly murdered thus far includes only Indians: Ramu Sood was the first; Jaya’s brother the second (in prison beaten and cut to death) – now Kaira Das. They will be joined by the end of the season when Leena is sent away to prison for 9 years after Hawthorne tried to molest/rape her and Adam, showing real fury, throws sets Hawthorne on fire – she takes the rap. The only white killed will be the moral minister, Raworth, white, is killed – by mistake trying to save a child from a bomb the child is wheeling about.

It’s the truly horrible Charlie who manages to needle Cynthia by calling her Mrs S, a char woman; we see how awful he is again, but this time accompanied by his giving Ralph a big check to keep that mansion up. Alice is unable to free herself, but still making gestures at Aafrin. Cynthia wants to get rid of Alice and urges her to go home (the way she did Madeleine), but Ralph, now more alert to this kind of thing, puts a stop to that. Cynthia also insults Leena when Cynthia sees that Alice has hired her (she was homeless, a beggar when deprived of the missionary job when Mrs R returned and became pregnant) and threatens her if she tells that Adam is Ralph’s son. Sooni’s role remains normative somehow: the mother wants to marry her off to a proper Hindu male and invites a woman friend/relative to bring her son to dinner; Sooni is resisting marriage, she wants to use her lawyer’s degree – it’s the most situation comedy storyline of the series.


Sooni, three years older …

Season 2, Episode 3: White Gods

One might be forgiven for thinking the series is turning into the story of Aafrin, as his trauma and behavior under terrific stress is central to the over-riding plot-design of this one. He is so deeply distressed by Nareesh Bannerjee’s murder of Kaira, and fear what he will do next, Aafrin, again on that same broken typewriter, writes a warning the man has a box of explosive bombs he intends to blow the club or someone’s mansion up with and its in a cave. He manages to persuade Ralph to take this seriously and send Rowntree and his men to search. Nothing is found, but the camera shows us it is in the bazaar. We can see that Ralph follows Aafrin’s advice because he believes Aafrin’s underlying motive is loyalty. Ralph as a character is and must be more self-contained.


Dressing the maharajah (Art Malik) for cricket (sly humor here)

A central scene is a cricket game where Aafrin is required to be umpire. Not easy for the spoiled Maharajah (Art Malik grown much older) whom Whelan is courting wanted to win. We meet this vain and amoral man and his mistress, Sirene (Rachel Griffiths), apparently actually from Western District of Australia (real name Phyllis).

A dinner at table reveals to Cynthia how ugly is Charlie’s humiliations of Alice and so she stops pressuring Alice to leave and to get back at him for calling her Mrs Sparrow provides a room for Aafrin and Alice to carry on. The stress of this cricket game, what he endures at the club (from his well-meaning benign father), and now this fulfillment makes him break out into hard sobbing. He had loved Kaira but cannot refuse Alice and the profferred English way of life she might take him into.

We see Lord Hamilton begin to chase Leena, that Raworth refuses to help her and his kowtowing to his wife again seen as coward’s way. Ralph is beginning to have his whole household treat Adam better, teach him things a Sahib should know … Madeleine watches this


Ralph Wheelan (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) showing Adam (Dillon Mitra) something

I have omitted my favorite male character: Ian McCleod played by Alexander Cobb: I love how he trails around in an Indian version of a kilt, the relaxed atmosphere around him, the lack of phoniness, the friendship he is building with Sooni — they go together to investigate the place where it appears Bannerjee was “confronted” (it was the other way round) by Kaira and Aafrin, and where Jaya took lost her life too.


Ian relaxed, dressing comfortably for heat and work …

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For Episode 4: Empty Chair (clicking on comments) and Episode 5: Hide and Seek (ditto).


Ralph comforting Alice

The titles of the episodes are mostly ironic. This second season is not nearly as melodramatic as the first, but the politics and human relationships go deeper, have gone on for longer, and are at the end (Episode 10) harsh for many, yet accepted … At this point we are reaching the midpoint of a second volume of a novel.

Ellen

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Ramu Sood (Alyy Khan) being brought out to be hanged (he is absolutely innocent of any crime and everyone knows this)

Dear Friends and readers,

A few days ago I provided a framework, perspective, synopsis and then summaries and commentary for the first half of the first season of the superlative Indian Summers. Now we turn to the second half of the first season, dominated by the mysterious murder of Jaya (Hasina Haque) from having been stabbed and drowned (by whom we are not quite sure even at the end of the season). The accusation is imposed on Ramu Sood; we watch how this comes about, the trial, and its conclusion in the British power murdering Sood.  They have colluded to exclude from evidence that Ralph Whelan (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) was Adam, her boy’s father and stood to lose everything if Jaya persisted in following him about with the son. It’s not that the idea that the parentage of Adam is the key to the murder simply does not surface.  This truth is repressed by those who know and lies about Sood are provided as a distraction from Ralph.

It’s shocking even today as it is made plain the British are doing this to rid themselves of a wealthy, proud “trouble-making” landlord.  We listen to several characters tell Sood’s one full supporter, Ian McCleod (Alexander Cobb), it does not matter if Sood is guilty or innocent. Sood is the kind of person the British want dead. They resent — Cynthia had already thrown Ian out of the club for working for Sood — and fear him. Sood tells McCleod the moral of his story is “keep your head down” if you are not a white and powerful male.


Jaya and Adam – she persistently abducts Adam from the missionary school where he was taken after rescue in the first episode so as to bring Adam before Ralph

Within this over-arching story, we watch Aafrin Dalal (Nikesh Patel) become bitterly disillusioned with Ralph. At the end of the season Aafrin realizes that Ralph will do nothing to prevent the gov’t from hanging Sood. Aafrin had assumed that Ralph would recommend mercy in the form of a prison sentence and then leniency in later years to cut down the sentence. Ralph at first writes a letter to that effect, but Ralph, after letting it stay publicly on his desk, destroys it and instead lets the death penalty take its course immediately. We also see the full criminality and viciousness of Cynthia’s (Julie Walters) character, who beyond lying on the stand to convict Sood, is responsible for the death of Eugene (Edward Hogg) Mathers, Madeleine’s (Olivia Grant) beloved brother and plots to persuade Olivia to return to the US and never return (despite Ralph’s determination to marry Olivia in order to give some moral pattern to his existence). Ian McCleod (Alexander Cobb) emerges as a hero risking all to try to save Sood, and when he does not, siding with the Indians to rally viscerally against the injustice in a funeral.

I admit I had not realized that WETA has placed online recaps of all the episodes of the first and second seasons, and left them available (here is one place you can reach these), but as these are not easy to click on in chronological order and are told neutrally (though concisely, concretely, accurately) I will carry on providing summaries and evaluations of the series.

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Episode 6 brings together all the threads we had come to understand in a violent open near murder by Ralph of a Irish soldier-hunter, Captain Billie Farquhar (Jamie McLaughlin), a character out of Kipling, because Farquhar is threatening Alice (Jemima West) with blackmail (she can pay him off with sex). We also see in a memory flashback the death of Jaya — who dies screaming, screaming. Her body shows multiple stabs (plus much abuse from earlier years as an outcast beggar).

Jaya had started to show herself, to come to Ralph’s house and with Adam, their son; he goes to her and proposes that if she agrees to go somewhere else, he would support her, but he appears to do nothing about this.  Leena Prasad (Amber Rose Revah) as the missionary teacher who loves Adam repeatedly wrests Adam back from this half-mad mother: Java threatens the boy, puts him at risk; she confides to Ralph that beyond her life in the streets, all she has known from men since Ralph abandoned her has been abuse. At the end of Episode 6 Jaya is apparently waiting for Ralph by the river (it seems like an appointment was made) and looks eager and then (apparently it’s not Ralph) because this person is doing something which horrifically frightens her, and next thing we see her drowning and screaming.

A second thread is that of McCleod’s relationship to Ramu Sood. Jaya has strayed into Sood’s house and finding a woman’s beautiful wedding clothes in a closet, takes them and puts them on.  These turn out to be Sood’s dead wife’s dress, and he becomes very angry. Sood is a lonely man who sits on his porch, half asleep with a gun across his knees — we learn in the trial his wife had died in childbirth. The gun shows he feels that his life is continually under threat. Now it was McCleod who, sorry for Jaya, let her work in what were McCleod’s uncle’s and are now Sood’s tea fields. McCleod’s good nature and naivete contribute to the tragedy.  Sood had looked at her impersonally and thought she would not be an effective worker and felt she might bring trouble. By this time Sood is training McCleod and they are working together.

In David Gilmore’s The British in India (cited in my first blog on Indian Summers) Gilmore says that a disproportionate number of Scots people came to India for work and became successful businessmen working closely with the Indians. We see the two men forming a friendship, Sood training McCleod: a mentor-father relationship forms. They sit and drink and Sood tells of the beggar woman and wedding dress.  Sood invites McCleod to stay, but McCleod insists on going home alone and hears the screaming nearby at the river — having seen Sood on the porch waving to him a few minutes before.


Farquhar’s first appearance: he is showing the ladies the head of the snake which he just killed

A separate thread is the discomfort and on again off again relationship of Alice and Aafrin. The absence-presence of her husband, Charlie, looms again. Irish Captain Billie Farquhar (James Maclachlan) comes out of nowhere to shoot and kill a snake who terrifies Madeleine, Ronnie Keane (Rick Warden) and maybe frightens Alice (Jemima West), all taking a sort of stroll in the bush (as it were). He is Irish, and presents himself as a mountain climber needing permission to climb the Himalayas. We are told this climb is extremely dangerous physically, and it quickly emerges that in fact Farquhar is not there to climb these mountains: when Ralph gives permission, Farquhar suggests Ralph wants to get rid of him. He reveals he is a friend of Alice’s husband, Charlie, and soon Alice is again in a abject position. She is susceptible to bullying; is bullied continually by Sarah Raworth (Fiona Glascott) who also knows of the marriage and her flight, and threatens to reveal she is not a widow but has (in law) kidnapped her son.


Sarah and Alice — this frenemy relationship is continuous — Alice is actually the friend of Leena, and tries to help at the missionary school

Ralph watches from afar, at first thinking Alice is “leading Farquhar on,” and when she denies this, Ralph literally throws Farquhar down the stairs, bashing Farquhar’s head on a wall in such a way as possibly to cause a serious concussion. Farquhar leaves in haste, but not before he has threatened to tell Charlie what actually is the condition of Alice and reminded her the boy belongs to the father.

A lighter note: Dougie Raworth’s (Craig Parkinson) keeping to his wife, puts her in a better temper and we see her for once on a roof accepting drink from her son and husband (playfully) instead of enacting incessant bitterness, aggression and pride and snobbery, envy, and spite.

That Ralph can risk murder of Farquhar shows his violence. We see him remove Madeleine from tea at one point and he forcibly in effect rapes her from the back (buggers) her and we see her submit to the pain (no pregnancy would happen). Then Ralph’s close servant, Bhupinder (Ash Nair) goes after his wife, Sumitra (Anitha Abdul Hamid?) who is Alice’s servant and nanny to Alice’s baby son, Percy — from the back, but she has the courage to refuse him and run away. We do see Ralph grieve over Jaya’s body in the morgue, but continue the lies he does not know who she is.

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Complicity would be a perfect title for S1, Episode 7. We see how Superintendent Rowntree (Guy Williams) leaps on McCleod’s naive bringing forth of information about a link between Jaya and Ramu Sood — specifically her taking his wife’s wedding dress and his anger over this — to accuse Sood of premeditated murder. Then the complicities slowly emerge:


Ian (Alexander Cobb) in his flat realizing he has been badly used

It takes time for Leena to realizes Raworth is holding back information which might help Sood: Raworth and she both know that Jaya was Adam’s mother, but more importantly that Ralph is the father. Raworth keeps saying he is not telling to protect Adam; but the reality is he is afraid to expose the Private Secretary for fear of reprisals. Ralph has sent him a huge check for the school (soon after Jaya began to be seen around the compound). Our respect for Raworth ought to go way down: his abjection before his wife is matched by his cowardice before British authorities.

Cynthia keeps up the drumbeat of false stories, including that Sood killed Armitage, when it was Armitage who attacked Sood. But then (like Leena slowly about Raworth) I realized Cynthia suspected Ralph did it and he suspects her. So Sood is a screen for both of them. (What do they care about him?) Aafrin seems as yet indifferent to what is happening in the trial, caring only that the Muslim girl (Sati) he found himself engaged to (through his father’s behavior) lied to him and endangered his position as a trusted Parsi among the whites.

Sood cries after being beaten into confession — as he says his crime was to behave as if he were equal; he should have kept his head down and not taken over the tea plantation. It ends on Ralph also (yet another person) telling McCleod it’s no use to offer any alibi, you will not be thanked. I did not realize that the whites and the passive obedient Indian community really meant to hang Sood when they knew it was a false charge probably because such a program as this would have poetic justice (so I thought).


The players — one of the more savagely ironic stills in the series

There is a play within the play going on: the British are putting on Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, with Cynthia as Lady Bracknell. Events happening within the play and the behavior of the players to one another reveal their characters and parallel events leading up to the trial. Cynthia tries to win McCleod back by welcoming him into the club and giving him a major part in the play (one she removes from Eugene Mathers out of spite), but he gradually sees through this and returns to the police to tell what he saw and insist he is Sood’s alibi. The large analogy (not obvious and thus probably lost to an American audience) is that Cynthia is Lady Bracknell and cares intensely about Ernest, who in this paradigm would be an allusion to the orphaned Ralph.

The larger event referred as happening off stage is Ghandi’s threat to go on a hunger strike and Ralph objects to staging the play as bad politics (the British will look bad); but the Viceroy (Patrick Malahide) who has a major role, and is much flattered throughout, insists the play go on (in effect he threatens Ralph with loss of his position). Ralph fears this ignoring the suffering of thousands and Ghandi’s symbolic recognition will cost them the parliamentary votes they need. Viceroy laughs at him.

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Episode 8: The Trial. The first time I watched the framing (very weak) and then trial and conviction of Ramu Sood, I didn’t realize quite how “guilty” was a foregone conclusion. The Indian judge had never for a moment considered coming up with a “not guilty” verdict. I admit that still I couldn’t take in that in the next episode this innocent man would be killed before our very eyes.


Raworth suddenly standing up at the trial, stopping Leena (whose POV we are in) from giving evidence that Ralph Whelan is Adam’s father

Some striking moments: Raworth protected Ralph Whelan so closely and then sent back Ralph’s check. Raworth cannot face his own lack of integrity, but to send the money back is as useless (one might say) as both Ian and Leena’s evidence on behalf of Sood in the trial. When Raworth signals to Leena on the stand that she should not utter Whelan’s name that made her evidence no evidence. She has come courageously to the Indian lawyer to tell him that Adam is Jaya’s son and that an important part of the evidence is who the father is. But on the stand she does not identify Ralph. She also made the mistake of criticizing Jaya (ironic that this is used against her). The Indian lawyer on behalf of Sood, suggests that she herself might have murdered the boy because she so yearned to be Adam’s mother, and then the unscrupulous British lawyer repeats the idea. So she is triply betrayed: by both lawyers and in effect by Raworth. Raworth fails Leena as McCleod does not fail Sood. Now whether telling the truth would not harm Leena, we cannot know ….

The worst villainess of the piece is Cynthia Coffin — ruthless, supposedly for Whelan, she ceaselessly blackens Sood. When it’s insinuated that Raworth might be Adam’s father, she says oh no, it was Armitage — no sleaze is beneath her. She (we realize wrongly) fears that Raworth might tell the truth were he accused – and the accusation is obvious when he stands up in the trial to stop Leena’s evidence. I probably should reread The Importance of Being Earnest to understand Lady Bracknell’s full relationship with Ernest; it is parallel with Cynthia’s with Ralph. She has now consigned Eugene to an early death by putting him in her club basement because she wants to get rid of both Mathers people and find for Ralph a much wealthier wife.

I did begin to feel there is misogyny in the way Cynthia is continually fingered as so powerful and so cruel. Sarah Raworth’s behavior reinforces this misogyny. She seems to vomit during the trial when Raworth stands up to defend Leena – all she cares for is is she acceptable by these racist imperialists. She comes home after the trial exposes Raworth and Leena has having some relationship to Jaya and Adam, and she rages at Raworth on the grounds she will now be stigmatized and excluded again. She tells him how boring, boring are his sermons. Against this is that when Aafrin breaks with Sati and tries to reach Alice, we are to feel for Sati who now will have her reputation utterly compromised — so not a misogynous script.


Sooni seated by the Indian lawyer; the snide insinuating English lawyer badgering Sood to confess …

Also the character of Sooni (Aysha Kala) shows us a feminist paradigm  — as does the story of Alice who has no rights or power or ability to earn an income it seems.  Sooni supports Sood, helps the Indian lawyer, gets McCleod to the court sober to give his evidence on behalf of Sood. Sood tries to persuade Ian not to give evidence; Sood pretends hostility to Ian, and insults him, and in Ian’s emotional hurt, Ian runs off to get drunk. Sood is the unselfish good man — who understands the way the Raj works but (as he said) assumed he could be an exception. We see him on the stand treated disrespectfully and played with by the lawyer — and realize the full extent of his personal tragedy: a man who lose a beloved wife and child only a few months ago.

It’s not an overtly violent, over dramatic ratcheted up drama — it is utterly believable.  At the end the last shot of the episode is of Ralph’s feet. The British lawyer used as evidence incriminating Sood that a filthy old sandal was found near the river. The lawyer scoffed at the idea a British man could wear sandals. But could this be Ralph’s sandal? We are given a clue here: the sandal was in too bad a shape to be Ralph’s. So who could the murderer have been if not Ralph, and an Indian man? Stay tuned.

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Cynthia justifying herself to Ralph …


As Sood is taken to his death, Ian jumps up and attempts to hug Sood, and stop this killing — very moving moment

See the comments for Episodes 9 or “Secrets Out”, and 10: Temporary Resolutions and the Hanging of Sood.

In another week or so I’ll write about the second season. For now Indian Summers might be considered an answer to the critiques of The Jewel in the Crown. Here we genuinely see the Raj from several different Indian POVs, and its power and cruelty are before us. It also much to its credit gives us a deeper sense of the permeations between England and Indian culture — no matter how hard the English tried to insulate themselves, they cannot. The little instruments are here too: it’s also the first one I’ve seen showing how ostracizing someone from the club could be used. Without the club, Ian has no friends, no where to go. These ever so civil upper class types, high cultured, are a bunch of ruthless murderers. But all are equally capable of evil and harm. An Indian man comes up to Aafrin and lets him know he knows about how Aafrin stole the document — he is demanding money to stay silent. I became intensely involved with all the characters; part of my grief at the cancelling of the series was to lose their presences and their full stories over the projected 50 episodes.

Ellen

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Julie Walters playing Cynthia Coffin, mistress of Ceremonies, hypocritically welcoming everyone to the club, her right-hand man, Kaiser (Indi Nadarajah) by her side

Noticeably: the kind of motifs, themes, and some character types you see in 19th century Anglo-Indian books and still in EM Forster and Paul Scott are not here (rape of white woman not central, but rather badly mistreated Indian women – murdered, imprisoned, no sneaky sly non-white characters but rather relentless white corrupt officials …) — a modern Anglo-Indian set of stories

Dear Friends,

Six years too late. How typical of me. I first watched the first Poldark series twenty years after it aired (1995 when I began to read Winston Graham’s books). Indian Summers aired for two years (or two seasons), ten episodes each from 2015-2016 when it was unfortunately cancelled, supposedly for not high enough ratings. Indian Summers is astonishingly even-handed: it is the first Anglo-Indian film to dramatize centrally the stories and characters of as many Indian characters (Parsi, Muslim, Hindu) as it dramatizes Anglo white (English, Scottish, American, some Australian, one Irish) characters. It candidly shows the cruelly unjust behavior of the white characters in front of us to the Indian ones. Jewel in the Crown, fine as it was, does not come near this. It’s superbly acted, fully realized production values (as this is put), beautifully written complex dialogue, on location (or near enough).

I’ve been watching and re-watching it for several months – I bought it when I began to prepare for the Anglo-Indian novels course I gave in two places this past spring 2022. I felt so sad when it came to an end and I realize that several threads were developing towards the second season, and (from the second feature at the end of that season before the series was cancelled), the series was supposed to be fifty episodes or five seasons, covering the period from 1932 to 1947: the first season was set in 1932, the second 1935, the third was going to show us the characters another three years later.

If it has a fault, it was that it introduced the character too slowly, allowing them only gradually to present their full selves and predicaments, the way we meet characters in complex novels, requiring that you re-watch to get the full and ironic significance of earlier episodes in the first season. Several of the Netflix commentaries include complaints and puzzlements because viewers did not understand what was happening until they reached later episodes and one must remember that at the time streaming, and having available all episodes at once to watch and re-watch as we do today was not common then.


Paul Rutman speaking of the Parsi family in the show

There are other problems in trying to write about it. Since it was cancelled after two years, and there are no books for a fan base to rally around, I have had a hard time finding out anything substantial about it. For example, I suspect it’s based on a novel sketched out by Rutman or several found by him (a kind of composite), but cannot prove it without some evidence. Here is a rare column on it: The thematic aim of the series is to lay bare the repressive policies and laws of the British gov’t that ruled India before Independence. This idea shapes and holds the several story lines together. Paul Rutman’s wife is from the sub-continent; he taught there in 1993; later he visited and lived there; after the topic was suggested to him, he read many many books (he cites histories and memoirs). He became convinced the relationship between the two umbrella cultures (there are more cultures in Indian than the upper class English/Scots and Parsi families the series centers on) is of vital importance for understanding Indian history and India and later 19th century UK and the UK until recently. He was drawn to the mood of nostalgia he found in these writings, and stories of people fighting for individual and group survival.

Too many years have gone by to retrieve it (sometimes the producers relent and a series is revived within 2-3 years), the only hope would be to do it again with different actors, and TV and film techniques and dramaturgies have moved on again. As with the Poldark seasons, and Foyle’s War (and other series I’ve written about here and on Austen reveries), I thought perhaps the best thing I could do to draw attention to it once again, for its own sake (watch for enjoyment and what you can learn about India) and to encourage other films of this type, is to retell the stories. The full complex depth, and empathy one can feel for the flawed central character of Cynthia Coffin, played magnificently by Julie Walters, takes two seasons to develop …

One becomes intensely involved with most of the characters, whether you love, identify, laugh at, cry for or hate them: a friend told me he hated the chief white male, Ralph Whelan (played by Henry Lloyd Hughes). I felt his Parsi counterpart, and subordinate, by the end brother-in-law, Aafrin Dalal (played by Nikesh Patel) was the series’ true hero.


The two men shaking hands when Whelan first hires and promotes Dalal to be his chief clerk and secretary (a general dogsbody for Whelan who is private secretary to the viceroy)

I can’t do it episode by episode since they are not self-contained (like the Foyle’s War ones and many of the Outlander episodes) and you only understand what you were watching in the first when you get to say the fourth (the second season this is no longer a problem and when new characters are introduced, they are somehow explained as much as they need to be right away).

The first season, Episodes 1-4. The first opens with a group of people seen on a train, all on their way to an Indian station near or in Simla, the summer retreat of the upper class British leaders. We see a half-caste child (part Indian, part white) whom other Indian children are throwing stones at, who seems homeless and ends up putting himself on the train track (thus inviting death). The train stops in time, and the child is rescued by a white missionary, Dougie Raworth (Craig Parkinson) and an Indian woman we later learn works for him in a school as a teacher, Leena Prasad (Amber Rose Reevah). They take him into the missionary school and think up a name for him: Lazarus is too obvious, and they chose Adam. What we learn by the fourth episode is this child is Ralph Whelan’s illegitimate son by a village girl whom he loved but never married, Jaya (Hasina Haque), now a homeless beggar, thrown out of her birth-place. On the train we meet Dougie’s racist wife, Sarah, a mean petty coarse nasty woman (Fiona Glascott), whose son rides next to her.

We also meet Alice Whelan (Jemima West) on her way “home” from England with her young baby son; we learn quickly she is fleeing a British husband, and seeking the love and protection of her brother: another key moment to this episode is when she climbs the stairs of the family mansion, Chotipool, and the two embrace. We are introduced to the racially segregated society of the club, with our first impression of Cynthia as the crude amoral, if hard-working, manager of the summer activities centered in the club building called the Royal Simla Club (“no Indians or dogs allowed,” says the sign).


The reasonable intelligent Dalal father (Roshan Seth), too much a compromiser though) and the mother (Lillette Dubey) whose world-view is narrow but passionate, a woman of integrity

This first episode also introduces us to the Dalal family before us — Parsi, pro-British, the most family-like conventional (warm) group of people for the first few episodes. Aafrin is shown as still under parents’ control and yet supports them. Aafrin thinks that he is in love with a Hindu girl, Sati (Elllora Torchia). He has a sister, Sooni Dalal (Aysha Kala) who in the series is the Indian romantic heroine, a sort of counterpart to Alice whose life has taken a bad turn by the time we meet her. Several of the young men in the series will fall in love with Sooni. Two older brilliant actors are the parents (see just above). An assassin following Whelan confronts him, with a gun, and in a scuffle shoots Aafrin in the chest; Aafrin would have died but that Ralph gets Cynthia to organize an ambulance and take Aafrin to the hospital. Aafrin and Alice’s love affair begins when she comes to the hospital to visit this man who saved her brother.


Sooni with Ian McCleod (Alexander Cobb), a Scotsman who gradually emerges as humane just man fighting for vindication of Ramu Sood (Alyy Khan), literally murdered by the British because he gets in their way as a landowner who thinks he has rights ….

The episode ends with Ralph having dinner on a porch at Chotipool, and carelessly, ruthlessly fucking Madeline Mathers (Olivia Grant), an American woman there to find a husband. Cynthia has enabled this relationship under the wrong impression the Matthews are rich, and when Cynthia finds out she relegates Madeleine’s crippled desperate and beloved brother, Eugene (Edward Hogg) to a room where he contracts typhus and dies (at the end of the first season). Madeleine’s character develops relative to Ralph and Cynthia’s story the way Sarah’s does Dougie and Leena’s (who share outlooks, goals, and love one another) so they remain secondary if complex important characters.

Of Episodes 2 through 4, it’s enough to say the action and scenes develop the characters we have been introduced to, with new ones adding on. The political realities and some of the characters’ secrets are gradually revealed; the literal circumstances of their lives and nuances in characters thickened. For example, we meet Ian’s maternal uncle, Armitage (I can’t find a first name), played by Richard McCabe, a drunken, overtly bigoted owner of a tea plantation, whom Ian has come out to help; the plantation is doing so badly and so much in debt to Sood that we see Sood take it over in the season, much to the uncle’s rage; the uncle attacks Sood when Sood asks him for money owed, and Armitage dies of a heart attack brought on by his own alcoholism and violence. Eventually Ian is excluded from the club when he protests the hideous treatment of Sood (who is even accused of attacking Armitage when it was the other way around), and, together with Sooni, joins protest demonstrations on Sood’s behalf after Sood is hung. In the second episode there are climaxes in the hospital and over Adam running away; we see Jaya and realize she is following Ralph and, from his POV and that of loyal Indian servant, Bhupi (Ash Nair), endangering Ralph’s reputation and career, his standing.

In the third episode, Sooni involves herself in a radical, revolutionary demonstration supporting an Indian woman’s speech (Nalini Ayer) and ends up in prison; the theme of the speech is that the idea that something is better than nothing is worse than no enfranchisement at all. Sergeant Rowntree recommends beating the people taken into prison. Alice visits the Raworth school which lacks all sorts of essentials and becomes friendly with Leena. Aafrin learns to ride horse so as to join in on the British way of life (what Ralph wants); Indians in suits watching are intimidated by Ralph standing next them; Ralph invites Aafrin into the club (!) for drinks. Raworth is all abjection in front of the endlessly gardening obnoxious Sarah who does not want the son, Matthew, to go to her husband’s school or a “ghastly” fair at the club (because they are low ranked people); she takes advantage of her husband by put-on crying about how she lives so far away from everything (I realize some viewers would sympathize with her).


The Viceroy is the center of all parties, with Cynthia the endless jolly entertainment (it’s an act)

In the fourth episode, we meet the Viceroy, Lord Willingdon (Patrick Malahide) who is not in himself a bad man, but goes along with all that the UK gov’t deems necessary to dominate and extract as much profit as possible from India and the Indians. He has a sour sense of humor: Am I the only one here without a martyr complex left over from 1857 (he asks)? There’s a mixed race (but all upper class) dinner party with everyone all dressed up: Aafrin explains his family came from Persia centuries ago; Eugene claims the Mathers family got out of the stock market before the crash.


Ralph as Louis XIV and Madeleine as Marie Antoinette — it is not uncommon among the super-rich for people to dress themselves extravagantly as royals of the past (in NYC at the turn of the century robber barons and their families did this)

Episode 5: Ralph’s engagement party to Madeleine where they dress up as Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. A number of threads are now also developing minor characters and side stories, some of them epitomizing, some interesting in themselves. I emphasize how Cynthia in this episode emerges as a basically murderer — she is spreading as truth the idea that Ramu Sood killed Armitage; she is threatening McCleod with banishment from the club if he works for Sood (who tells McCleod he wants him for his name and as a decent manager); she has discovered the Mathers are broke (she will steathily attempt to undermine and destroy Ralph’s engagement); Ralph says he is not sure he loves Madeleine. We see he has a mother-son relationship with Cynthia; in the second season we learn both are badly in debt, with Ralph much more deeply in.


Ralph (Henry Lloyd Hughes) and Cynthia (Julie Walters) in an unguarded moment, confiding …

Leena is a Cinderella who finally puts on a dress to go to the ball (a party at the club to which she as a teacher at Raworth’s school can come) but retreats because she truly loves Raworth and does not want to distress him. His awful wife, Sarah, has discovered Alice is married, and by threatening to expose her bullies Alice continually: we see how susceptible Alice is to cruelty. The club secretary, Ronnie Keene (Rick Warden) is a sycophant who has shown that nothing is beneath him is in the later episodes of this season attracted to Sarah and she to him.


Leena Prasad (Amber Rose Revah) at the school — in season 2, she is sent to prison for 9 years after a proposed new viceroy sexually harasses her and Ralph’s son, Adam, fiercely loyal to her set him on fire ….

Ralph manages to get an untouchable accepted into the club assembly — Ralph is a complicated ambiguous character whose larger political vision includes an aim of integration with the Indians since he personally regards India as his home (his family has been there for generations — this did happen) and does not want the British to give up central power over India. He is trying for a India bill which he thinks might lead to unification through nationalism (not to divide the religious groups); what stands in his way among other things are the 600 princely states (and the story of these will be embodied in the second season).


Alice and Aafrin later in the first season, very much drawn to one another

Dalal’s father suddenly seems to allow Aafrin to love Sati — he is far more reasonable than the Dalal wife-mother whom Sooni has not yet broken from — I am wondering how much he suspects Aafrin is attracted to Alice and this is a ploy to stave the Alice affair off — and an open English and non-Indian connection. The episode ends with Aafrin and Alice kissing in the gardens (party going wild now), while Bhupi kicks out the nervy Jaya and Adam (trailing around after Ralph). Sati we know destroyed a letter which Aafrin gave her to give to Sooni to get rid of evidence in the Dalal home that Aafrin sometimes works with Indian rebels in ways that undermine Ralph.


This summer house in Penang, Malaysia was filmed as the British Hill station in Simla (see a slideshow of all the houses & places used)

To be continued …

Ellen

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John-Alexander Sakelos as Peter Quince, Jacob Ming-Trent as Bottom, John Floyd as Flute, Sabrina Lynn Sawyer as Snug

Friends and readers,

The summer is more than half over and I’ve not recommended any summer movies. I have urged as a perfect summer book the treat of an ironic romance, shadowing the gothic at its edges off-stage of Valerie Martin’s Italian Fever, and tonight add (in haste, lest you miss it) the unmeaning (in the best sense) broad farcical fun at the National Building Museum of a Folger production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. A high compliment I can pay it is I felt at moments like I was back in New York City in the Central Park theater watching a Shakespeare play, for this MND like to many Central Park Shakespeare plays was doused in a feeling of local culture (African-American city style) and sentiment (here DC).  How happy those nights were for me in the 1970s in NYC under the stars.  This one had a little of that wondrous starlight at moments, and was also (not unrelated) a community event:


Danaya Esperanza as Puck at the top; Rotimi Aghablaka and Nubia M Monks as Oberon/Theseus and Titania/Hippolyta on top; the four lovers on either side

I agree with Peter Marks it’s another savagely cut-down Shakespeare, and was done very broadly (precious little nuance was felt, so no sense of intimacy). Still, those central moments for the lovers in the forest, the players’ practicing and production, with the frame of Theseus/Hippolyta as Oberon/Titania(only it is he who falls in love with an ass) was enough. The best lines survived and then some.

Peter Marks omitted what was the fun: filled in was a lot of African-American and recent rock music, Jacob Ming-Trent mimicked a lot of African-American slang phrases and pop culture allusion as well as the culture itself (this Bottom rode an invisible motorcycle) as did the players to some extent and the framing of the noble and squabbling faery lover. Our Athenian pairs were left to be their usual selves. The dance and music performed by everyone immersed us. The faeries’ outfits were magical fantastical:


The same actors played the players as the faeries

I liked some of the costumes as outlandish bizzare: for example, Snug as Thisbe in the play


The red wigged braided hair is Thisbe; the other extravagant lady is Helena (Renea S. Brown)

I suggest that you do not expect a lot of serious philosophic feeling about dreams and/or love despite what is interestingly (in the program notes for the production) claimed by Michele Osterow; what we are given rather is elusiveness and self-conscious self-reflexive ironic highjinks, e.g., Lilli Hokama as Hermia may be little but she is fierce, and tosses Hunter Ringsmith up to the sky.  My favorite moments came with Kathryn Zoerb as Moon and Brit Herring as Wall (for whom, alas, I can find no photos). The director was Victor Malana Maog; Alexandra Beller, choreographer; and Tony Cisek (long time Folger person) did the production design.

When I could still see to drive at night and could come to night-time productions, pre-pandemic at the Folger itself, they had another of these Midsummer Night’s Dreams, this one a movie with more sweet sadness and melancholy, elements missing here. But we are (I am) aging and in this at-risk-world of ours, don’t miss out on this gaiety (however vigorous — think robust).

The stage and auditorium as a whole set up in a playhouse space:


Behind the scenes pre production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream stage play.

Ellen

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Nearly the last shot of the show: Sam (Honeysuckle Weeks) and Foyle (Michael Kitchen) beginning to say goodbye, to end their professional relationship

Dear friends and readers,

It has come time for me to write my last blog for now on this magnificent series (see the lst 2 seasons; Seasons 3 & 4; and Seasons 5 & 6). In real time this wonderful project of summarizing, understanding and evaluating episodes has lasted five months. I would feel very sad were I not sure I shall re-watch the whole once again soon, and all the features too.

As I began 7:1 “High Castle,” I felt that the classic or central formula for Foyle, that he is the good man, the constant in an often bad world was no longer the paradigm; he was being forced to compromise too much. I put it down to the change in genre. Series 1-6 was (I’m following Andrew Marr’s brilliant distinguishing) the detective story where it was a pattern of finding out what happened criminally usually by a detached sleuth (here we had three, for beyond Sam and Foyle, Sergeant Paul Milner (Anthony Howell). While there was a use of M15 and M16 and some spy elements in 1-6, they were secondary, not centrally structurally; in Series 7-8 Foyle has been commandeered into working for the spy agencies himself, yes as a police officer, but taking on behaviors and assumptions that belong to the spy genre.


Hilda Piece (Ellie Haddington) becomes a central character; she often lies, is devious (personally ambitious), protects hideous people

Thus the episodes for 7 & 8 are the result of initiations and complicities with harmful evil (even) conduct) on the justification that ends justifies means — just what Foyle had been rejecting for 6 different sets of adventures. To put it simply, Foyle is asked to do something where he is lied to about what he is finding things out for — it is just so deceitful or dishonorable. They do not avoid nationalism, the way the first six seasons miraculously often managed to; there is knee-jerk anti-communism now and again. But these are, as it were, minor excresences, because Foyle is either able to remained uninvolved or himself undermine just those parts of the assignments that are so pernicious (and are, for example, in much of LeCarr anathema endured). Time and again Foyle also either refuses to enact harmful deeds or exposes them. Further, the stories themselves of these last two series are further or wider ranging in political and philosophical matter than were the first four seasons, touching on more troubling issues, with the programs sometimes giving a more truthful or accurate explanation for political events and history (for example, the founding of Israel).

I also realized I had not mentioned (though I was aware of this, how could one not be) that one paradigm at the center of all the seasons was that of the evolving father-daughter relationship between Sam and Foyle! Here they are when they first meet: how much younger Honeysuckle Weeks looks in Season 1:


Foyle confounded when confronted by Sam who has been told she is to work for Mr Foyle


Sam irresistibly round-faced (signifying youth), fresh, buoyant, all hope when they first meet — she can hardly wait to fulfill her job; she is the spot of sunshine in the series, all heart …

Anthony Horowitz keeps repeating that part of the steadying foundation for the series are conventional or classic values: and what we have is a girl with a boy’s name, dressing boyishly, seeking approval from a male authority figure, learning from him, imitating him. Foyle is to her someone stable, reasonable, offering her place where she can act in the world (as opposed to her vicar father who wanted her to come home and stay there). Foyle is her ally; provides her with important work, a role model, who, together with Milner (someone crippled by the war whom Foyle rescues too, but not as a parent, rather almost a rival), makes her part of a team. She intuits constructive feedback and over the course of the first 6 seasons she is learning, often on her own initiative, and, with her woman’s intuition and ethic of caring, she helps him solve cases and provide compassion and care for those they meet. An interesting difference in these last two seasons, is how Weeks is dressed differently: far more mannish; how much older and leaner she is made to look. She is now married to Adam Wainright who does not try to dominate and keep her to himself, allows her space and time. She transfers the skills she became so expert at with Foyle to help Adam in his career.


Above Sam has made friends with both the young women who becomes a victim, and a young woman who we find is complicit with thief — she is shepherding them to a dance for fun (6:2, “Killing Time”)

This is a man’s program — so female friendships develop between Sam and another young woman her age she can identify with now and again but are not central to the development of the character. That is much more often found in women’s writing and films. Further most of the time the girls are seen in relationship to the men they are with. Not always. But the first two seasons had many young men finding themselves, good and flawed, as sub-stories; this was still true of seasons 3 & 4. The girl’s and women’s stories are only glimpsed, to the side until Seasons 5 & 6 when the themes of home-coming, of women’s war work, and aftermath come to the fore. Throughout Horowitz is remarkably free of misogyny — maybe the influence of his wife, Jill Green, whom he says he worked closely with, and was the producer or one of the producers throughout. And while Foyle has an important relationship with his son, Andrew (Julian Ovenden), it is not developed in the intimate thorough way it is with Sam — and we feel saddened for him when it’s clear she is moving out of his life to become a mother, wife, and partner to Adam, Labor MP. They have been at the core of all the series.


Here they are mid-career (5:2, “Broken Souls”)

As in the case of Seasons 5 & 6, I won’t put the summaries in chronological order as the immediate moment no longer matters so much; it’s the general era of the new “cold” war Horowitz is dramatizing, critiquing, exposing. I know I am short-changing Sam’s relationship with Adam (now played by Daniel Weyman) this way as their courtship, young love, earliest marriage and now facing the world as a family is evolved over time. So too Foyle with other new recurring characters, for example, Arthur Valentine (Tim McMullan) who Foyle at first regards with suspicion as an amoral man who obeys orders regardless, but learns is to be trusted; like Hilda Pierce, Valentine means well, and unlike her, does not lie or seem complicit with the worst people (he has a lower rank), and importantly, we learn, is a homosexual whom Foyle treats with respect and loyalty.


Valentine confiding in Foyle (8:3, “Elise”)

One of the deeper pleasures of these series is the recurring character; some stay the same, but the major ones evolve, and are ambiguous. Foyle’s last near love (he experiences a few across the series), Elizabeth Addis (Hermione Guilford) first appears (we discover) in season 8 as a member of the M15 there to watch and report back on Foyle; he thinks they are developing a relationship for real; she changes and wants to be friends, perhaps lovers. The last moment of the series leaves ambiguous whether after Foyle discovers how she was using him, he could find it in himself to trust her again and have some company in life …

**********************************************

Season 7, Episode 1, “The Eternity Ring:”

So I returned to Foyle’s War tonight, and found this episode & season very different in mood, feel and the kind of people Foyle gets involved with from the six previous: Dated August 1946.


The group of scientists waiting to see the denotating of the test atomic bomb

It opens night-time, 2 sets of trucks, New Mexico, July 16th, 1946, with a group of scientists, among them, Dr Michael Fraser (ands in for John Von Neuman – Stephen Boxer) and Dr Max Hoffman (Klaus Fuchs who was involved with the Soviets – Ken Bones) watching from a remarkably close shed the detonating of the first atomic bomb
We then have another opening scene, again the dead of night, a Mr Gorin (Dylan Charles) taking secret documents from some huge building, there is another man spying on him. He may be doing that for Fraser, or maybe the pro-Soviet Chambers.

A darker focus on Foyle’s face (Michael Kitchen is 3 years older and looks it). We see him getting off a plane, he has been to the US for a year and is coming home; he meets an ordinary ex-flyer, Frank Shaw (Joe Duttine), coming home for the first time in 6 years. He was a POW in Japan, had malaria, is dreading coming home to Ruthie (Jennifer Hennessey) and his son, now 16 and home-coming is rocky. They were bombed out of Hastings, His son works as a bartender to all hours, and his wife works She does not want to give up her job. Later in the episode when he turns up to be rehired as a police man he is sneered at and dismissed as useless.

Foyle has to leave Shaw because he is immediately (in effect) arrested and taken to a National Security secret service place and intensely pressured into becoming a policeman investigating “an eternity ring” of (dire tones) communists. References are made to the suicide of Howard Paige, the whole ambience is one of hostility and coercion, a fat faced sneering Arthur Valentine (Tim McMullan) and team seemingly headed by Hilda Pierce (Ellie Haddington) where they move to a chief, William Chambers (Nicholas Jones). He is blackmailed into joining them at MI5 by a photo of Sam apparently giving secret papers to a soviet agent outside the Victorian theater.

After several insidious twists and turns it emerges that the Eternity Ring is a complete fiction, the photo was a fake, putting Sam photographed outside the theater where she had been seeing Henry V with a man superimposed. Miss Pierce suspected Chambers was a mole and she was tricking him into revealing himself; he escapes to Russia, and she gets his job. Along the way they bully, lie, destroy people. He is told there is a new war, with the Soviets, the name Stalin is used as a talisman for evil that need not be explained. Sam to them is guilty by association; she married a politician, and she and Adam lived at Sevenoaks where there were communists – for 3 months. Just the sort of association that led to blacklisting in the US

Foyle is drawn into the same unscrupulous behavior investigating people. He seeks out Sam without telling her what he suspects; she happens to be working for Dr Fraser and his wife, Helen (Kate Duchene), sick (actually unknown to her dying of cancer from exposure to radiation), where he is invited to dinner. She’s one of the rare characters in this episode (like Sam, or Foyle) who shows genuine capacity for being cordial to others and wanting to help them – because she’s a woman? Doesn’t have to take things so seriously? Ouch. Foyle also meets Hoffman.


Sam and Adam in one of their happy — spontanenous feel — moments at home …

He goes to lunch with Sam and discovers she is not happy even if now happily married to Adam Wainright (semi-warm moments there when they succeed in this or that; we see they are struggling to get food through rationing, living in a poorer area). Wainright played by different actor (Daniel Weyman replaces Max Brown – they look alike): 3 real years have gone by. We are told she is herself a pro-Churchill person (“we ought to give him a chance” now the war is over?) but since Adam was invited to join labor, she has to support them (the National Health and other things aimed at are brought up with tones of disbelief); she does not seem to mind since Adam genuinely wants to do good. She and he need the money she makes, but the next thing that happens is she is fired. Why? She is accused of being in cahoots with Foyle who Fraser now thinks has come to spy on him. This is not done out of principle we learn by the end of the episode.

Sam is indignant and seeks out Foyle and very different from their earlier relationship she demands to know how he could have targeted her this way. He tells of the photo or shows it to her and she says that never happened. She calms down and two agree to investigate together as they used to. This is the first semi-warm moment in the episode apart from the Shaws first encounter together. Their investigation leads them to one of the places these anonymous spies we see were holing out, a room contaminated with radiation out of a thermos (It’s suggested). This is a room where a Fraser operative has been. Both she and Foyle are captured by a swat team and treated as criminals themselves. When it’s finally seen they are not, they have to be de-contaminated making her late for an appt with a labor committee Adam is trying to persuade to let him run for office in a hitherto Tory area.

The interview goes badly because Adam’s wife is not there. Again the whole attitude of mind has nothing to do with ideology – men running for office need wives by their side. Glenvil Harris is apparently Adam’s mentor? (Jeremy Swift). Sam comes late, dressed oddly but paradoxically makes a good impression because she is truthteller – this is one of several moments in the episode, unusual, where the episode of unconvincing. It is a parallel of Foyle having to get past the suspicions of him by those he is supposedly working for. Another place is when Foyle suggests to Fraser he tell MI5 what he’s been up to and Fraser basically agrees he should with the implication he will. Of course he won’t—they’d laugh at his idea of a brotherhood of scientists and feeling that the Russians are not bad people, just have some bad political leaders.
Shaw is getting into bad fights with his wife; his son insults him for having been away for so long; the wife’s mother tells him this is not his home (it was hers) and to get out Shaw follows the young man to a “gentleman’s club” we had earlier seen Valentine sneak into. It turns out this is a club for gay men and Shaw becomes incensed and beats Valentine up as Valentine comes out and sneers at him. Shaw of course hates homosexuals automatically. He thinks his son is doing a unworthy job in every way. He is taken into custody and we see Ruthie show up and forgive him by hugging him and taking him back to where they are living. Another semi-warm moment.

We see Hoffman suspected; we see him pass information to someone, but only at the end of the episode does Foyle accuse Fraser (apparently) rightly of sharing information with the Soviets (or “others”) He says he is doing this to prevent an atomic war holocaust, so the playing field is leveled for all combatants. We see Fraser and Hoffman go into the Arnwell Atomic Research center where Fraser takes a specimen of U233 – and only later realize this is what they were doing. This is an episode which takes at least 3 watchings.

The fundamental problem with this episode and the whole season and next is Foyle is presented as disliking these spies and their operation but is drawn into joining them. At the end of the episode when we see him at long last heading back to Hastings, Hilda comes by and lures, pressures him into her limousine, and tries to persuade him to work for MI5 (and her). He caves in too quickly: she promises to do what she can for Frank, it appears Sam can be hired as his driver again (so replication of the companion relationship, two people, older man, daughter-like girl, working together). But if he is out of sympathy with much of their thinking, how can he join? He is reminded by Hilda he wanted to join the Security group early in the war, and asked if he is really going to spend his life fishing and nothing else.
It appears this is the only place he can go to now – the world has changed not for the better. So what was he war for? And look at the weapon for the next war …
Spy stories are quite different from mysteries: they are nationalistic, about loyalty and betrayal not just to whom the people work for but to one another so amoral. It is much harder for Foyle to be our secure moral compass in this world – he is said to have hounded Paige to his death – he denies it the verb. There’s a 4 minute introduction to these two new seasons by Anthony Horowitz: he apparently feels the older world mystery is not suited to serious presentations of issues in our world today – only spy stories will do. Foyle’s 1st season was done in 2000; it’s now 2013.

Series 8: Episode 1: “High castle”


Foyle entering Monowitz Slave Labor Camp

Series 8 tells a story which allows the extrapolation out to the hideous capitalist enterprise I.G. Farben, investigation of whom necessitates Foyle’s visit to the slave labor camp of Monowitz. What Foyle unravels is the collusion of the UK and US govts who permitted “businessmen” who of course (I write this ironically) care more about profits to be made by selling gas and now other radioactive products to Nazi Germany which enabled them to fuel their planes and carry bombs that killed millions of people. There is a veil connecting these Nazis and US businessmen to the present Soviet Union in order to satisfy the propaganda still so alive in 2010, but it’s just a distraction to please the US backers.

We see Michael Kitchen filmed in what’s left of these fantastically cruel ugly places. The horrific conditions these slave Jews lived in are made emphatic by talk.
The episode opens with petty thieves/thugs trying to steal the 2000 pounds of whiskey said to be aboard a ship and one of them discovering this fuel is so much poison that he dies of it. This whiskey is bottled as High Castle.
The big businessmen exhibit not the least remorse. Horowitz in the feature that goes with this acknowledges a complaint by US viewers that the US guys seem mostly to be bad guys – in fact Horowitz’s target is capitalism and arms manufacturers, which to be sure where heavily US men.
The Nurembourg trials are going on and we learn that beyond the very top people, the Nazi s who profited so much from the war got off with light sentences. The UK M15 care only about information they can get from these moral horrors. Two of them are killed but our sympathies are kept from arousing for them in their utterly selfish hard mean dense personalities.

Its context Is also the forced coercion of women back to no jobs after the WW2 when men came home and asked for their jobs back. Adam is now a labor MP asked by one of his constituents to help her keep her job. She has been offered a job on a production line for half the pay; the returning man is profoundly physically maimed. Her union is run by men; all the MPs are men. They say it’s women’s job now to have babies. Sam is herself pregnant but not ready to spend all her time at home in the nursery Adam is preparing for her. How awful are jobs as companions to and readers for those who despise you.

Across this episode we meet a number of women who are tyrannized over by men or utterly dependent on them: from the wife of the US murderer running Global American Oil (Standard), to the wife of the scholar who went to Germany to bring back a bribe of diamonds to pay for her medical care in the US for a cancer. Sam is treated in the rudest way by this American’s Nazi-sympathizing old man. At the close when Sam has been rescued by Valentine (Tim McMullan as this closet homosexual is gradually shown to be a decent man) she apologizes to Adam for not caring enough for the potential baby; she said she had no right to endanger herself. She does uncover vital information which enables Foyle to stop these businessmen from continuing their practices to dealing with the Saudi Arabians and Soviet Union, not to omit the Shah of Iran (it supports this man to buy and sell oil with him for armaments). Adam apologizes back because he was trying to help a young woman whom he found he could do nothing for (the very unions are all male) and himself pressuring Sam to stay ‘home.” What’s important beyond the characters and story we care so much about (Sam) is we see this larger deeply exploitation of and bullying/threat of women context.

A terrifying Soviet spy named Leskov does a great deal of the killing. He is never caught.

Foyle’s son has now vanished – that is a loss. I can see we are expected to realize he Is attracted to and himself an attraction for a lone older women, Elizabeth Addis, who works in university and for MI5 (as a casual plant they can call upon) – the smidgen of loyalty felt to a good person seems to me not to go far enough.
I hope I left nothing out that mattered. This season I am driven not to tell the particulars of each story but their larger meaning against the backdrop of the dregs of WW2 and the “cold war. Jokes by a new regular at the Nuremberg trials to Foyle how he is still bothering himself with bodies in libraries stabbed in the back. At least three of these German ex-officials in Hitler’s Germany are murdered in the way of Agatha Christie deaths.

Series 8: Episode 2: “Trespass”


Sam with the desperately poor father and his seriously sick son

I found Trespass remarkable in its candor over the way Israel was being created in 1946/7 – analysing the events in such a way as we can see the origins of the situation today. Some of the matter takes us right back to the 2nd episode of the 1st season about Nazism in British society and among British politicians. Trespass opens with the bombing of the King David Hotel In 1946 by the Jewish terrorist Stern gang (with others). Foyle’s woman friend from the previous episode, Prof Addis, is supervising a class where Daniel Woolf a student is explaining the Balfour proposal was not intended to create a Jewish state but perpetuate British control of that area in the middle east which was a key to reach India, to do trade over oil, to use the Suez canal. What happens during the course of the 90 minutes is we slowly (very slowly) discover the British foreign secretary is playing a double game, and himself sending off bombs to ships to stop Jews from crossing to Palestine; and using MI5 as a clever disguise. A conference is to be held for Arabs and Jews to try to come to a solution, and both the local gov’t and MP (Adam Wainright) to prevent this conference from exploding in violence, which has been precipitated by one of these fascist groups (still around, still anti-semitic after all these years of hideous war & slave labor and extermination camps), which we are shown attract people who are poor and so tired and disappointed after the war is over as their lives are not improved at all. The labor gov’t is still working on producing the National health, and housing and still rationing food.

One set of characters is there to show us how desperate life was: a man with a boy who is very ill cannot get him any care because he lacks the money to pay for a doctor or hospital help; he is tempted to join the Nazi group that night and leaves his son with a kindly aging Polish couple. They are blown up by this Nazi group’s march and his son rescued from death by police. Sam secures for him a doctor’s help with his son.

The most interesting sub-story is that of the young woman who calls herself Lea Fischer and comes to stay with a Jewish family on the excuse she is going to go to a college course. In fact she has come because her father, Jewish, was killed when British brutal soldiers burst on their home in Palestine. She is part of a terrorist group who want to blow up the National Conference because they see it as not favoring Jews. She spends a day with this couple’s son, he grows to trust her and he thinks they are in love; what she does is sneak in a bomb to his equipment as a sound engineer for the conference. He is almost blown to bits – only prevented by Foyle and Sam and M15 discovering this aim at the last moment. She is play by a wonderful actress I recognized from Indian Summers – there too a understandably angry victim who in IS does not take revenge but sacrifices herself and ends up in jail for 9 years. One actress and another actor I recognized as having parts in Outlander! In similar roles archetypally speaking.


Amber Rose Revah as “Lee Fischer”

Again Sam and Adam are not having enough time together. At the very end of the episode we discover that Dr Addis did not find a room for Foyle to enable him to escape the far from friendly spying on him his colleagues and the disguised ruthless people do but for herself to keep an eye on him for the sake of thse colleagues. Again Hilda Pierce is the person who behaves in this distinctly untrustworthy manner. Hilda Pierce’s amorality washes over Dr Addis as Foyle realizes Addis’s friendship for him is part of the spy racket. She is feeling bad about this but she does not stop.

This one is so complicated – what is shown us are the origins of the realities of our colonialist and war-ridden world today. Several of the actors who are in MI5 who we started with and distrusted rightly are now turning into understandable men of compromised integrity.

To read about Season 7, Episodes 2, “The Cage,” and 3, “Sunflowers,” and Series 8, Episodes 3, “Elise.” All in comments.


Sam must leave this career and cross over to her husband …

Ellen

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