What’s on Wayne: Channel 4’s Indian Summers needs to heat up soon

Julie Walters as the scheming Cynthia in Channel 4's Indian Summers

Julie Walters as the scheming Cynthia in Channel 4's Indian Summers - Credit: Archant

My first thought was Indian Summers could’ve been subtitled Slow Passage to India. Nothing really happened until the last 10 minutes.

Craig Parkinson as Dougie and Shachin Sailesh Kumar as Adam

Craig Parkinson as Dougie and Shachin Sailesh Kumar as Adam - Credit: Archant

We were introduced to a seemingly endless parade of characters during the opening episode of Channel 4’s latest drama, charting India’s dream of independence as the British cling to power.

Set in 1937, a few thousand British civil servants rule the entire sub-continent and every summer escape the heat of the plains ? with little success from what I could see ? and run the country from the foothills of the Himalayas.

It’s not a period of our history I’m familiar with; reason enough to tune in. What really sold me on watching it was Julie Walters’ appearance on the Graham Norton show.

The actress, who plays Cynthia Coffin, grande dame of the whites-only Royal Simla Club, was munching on a chocolate and liquorice ball gag at the time, trying desperately to remember what the series was about. In fairness, she was clearly distracted by Fifty Shades of Grey star Jamie Dornan to her right; hence the unusual snack.

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Whenever she’s in something, I know it’s worth a look.

Walters says to get a part like Cynthia at her age is heaven. Intrigued by the character’s very close relationship with Ralph Whelan, the Viceroy of India’s private secretary whose career she’s determined to advance, she found her very interesting.

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“She’s a Machiavellian personality... her morals are based on her practical needs rather than right and wrong. She does things that aren’t right but utterly believes they are. She knows everybody’s secrets. And I love the entertainer side of her. She’s great fun, as well as having this darker side.”

I was worried by its epic drama tag and that Indian Summers would be your typically twee Sunday night costume drama.

Somebody gets in a tricky situation over a five-pound note or falls for the wrong person, but everything’s resolved within 45 minutes ? yes Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey, Larkrise to Candleford, I’m talking to you.

As it went on, it did seem keen to break out of that mould. That’s not to say it wasn’t terribly predictable a good part of the time. There were the usual character tropes ? the doomed lovers, somebody with a secret, the schemer, the idealist, the pragmatist...

The only thing that came close to upstaging Walters was the look of the series.

Shouting “look, it’s India, India” from the opening credits, the whole thing looks exquisite. Lavishly shot and amazingly atmospheric. You could almost feel the stifling heat and smells of the market coming through the screen.

I think it relied a little too much on its setting and the plot moved slower than the train chugging its way through the hills to Simla.

The final 10 minutes were intriguing enough to earn the remaining episodes a spot in my Sky+ planner. Seeds are being sown and I think it’ll pick up a bit, like crime thriller Fortitude apparently has, although I’ve long lost interest in that.

Sunday’s episode sees frosty Sarah Raworth’s burgeoning unhealthy obsession with Ralph’s secretive sister Alice blossom as she turns detective to uncover the real reasons behind her move to India.

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