Ben Cross as Ash
Amy Irving as Anjuli
Omar Sharif as Father
John Gielgud as Cavagnari
Based on a novel by
This is a lavish six part mini series set in the exotic world of the British Raj. The hero is Ash who is an officer in the Corps of Guides in the 1870s. However, he had an unconventional upbringing after his family were killed during the Indian Mutiny. He was rescued by his Aya and brought up for the first 11 years of his life believing that he was an Indian. His cross cultural confusions and loyalties play a central part to the series - In fact, despite being a central theme to the series, it is actually one of the most unconvincing parts of the plot. He is forever chastising his British compatriots for failing to appreciate and value the Indian character and mind set. Totally laudable
(if perhaps a bit too modern for the 1870s) goals. Yet, he spends most of the series breaking the customs and laws of the Indians that he so wants to protect from the British. There are two aspects which illustrate these inconsistencies. First of all, he falls in love with a Princess who is betrothed to a rich and powerful Indian Prince. He is supposed to escort this (and another) Princess and their dowries through India to the castle of the Prince. Yet, he systematically breaks about every Indian taboo that it is possible to break and endangers his friends and adopted families credibilities and livelihoods by persisting with his dangerous liaisons. Now, it is perhaps possible to forgive the vagaries of love (even in the 1870s). Yet the second example of modern concepts being thrust upon a Nineteenth Century character cannot be so easily appreciated. One thread of the storyline finds Ash wanting to save an Indian Princess from the practice of Suttee, whereby the widow of an Indian man accompanies her husband on his funeral pyre. Our pro-Indian hero tries to pull out all the official stops in an attempt to prevent this event from happening. Of course, when it suits him he is more than happy to call upon the British legal and moral system that he so consistently rails against. I think that this kind of storyline tells us more about the author and the world that she is living in rather than the world of the Imperial Raj. The author is discovering for herself the peculiarities and contradictions of
imposing contemporary egalitarian values onto a tradition bound and rigid society. Wanting to support the concepts of equality and freedom the liberal will soon find that it can often mean having to accept such anti-liberal ideas as inequality for women and intolerance of other religions and peoples. Both the author of the book and the film makers have got themselves into a complete moral mess by trying to appease their modern audience.
Actually, when the series leaves the moral quagmire of the love story, it stands on much firmer historical ground. Several characters in the series are based on real historical figures who played major parts in Britain's military excursions in to Afghanistan.Cavagnari, Hamilton and many other minor characters were all present at the storming of the Residency in Kabul. In fact, these scenes are some of the best in the film and have the added advantage of reasonably accurately portraying the fateful events that took place there. If more of the film was along these lines then I would be the first to stand upon the roof tops proclaiming your need to watch this series. However, the all to modern love story eats up far too much time and plausibility for me to be able to do that. I can say though that I thoroughly enjoyed the series and think that it has some wonderful period backdrop scenes, characters and subplots. You can certainly get some things out of this series just as long as you realise that it is a Twentieth Century storyline set in a Nineteenth Century world.