The Jewel in the Crown is a PBS aired miniseries from 1984 depicting the transitional years of India shifting from British to self-rule. This, of course, would include the partition of India and Pakistan. I actually watched this series when I was a kid and I realize now it was my first introduction to India and Hinduism, topics that would remain lifelong interests. I’m surprised my mother let me watch it, as it’s rife with risque scenes and taboo material, though watching it now as a 41 year old I realize most of it went right over my head at the time. For instance there is the ongoing theme of repressed homosexuality- to the extent that it begins to feel contrived and gratuitous, but I didn’t really “get it” as an 11 year old. There are also very disturbing themes of suicide, despair, and war-induced PTSD (though it’s not called that in the series) all set to the background of World War II and a threatened Japanese invasion of the country.
The series does not lend itself to binge watching; it took me two weeks to plow through it (my husband kept saying, “You’re still watching this?”). There are fourteen ponderous episodes, all of them about an hour long; the first episode is 1 hr 45 minutes. At times the script feels more like a stage play, with lots of introspective and philosophical dialogue, though the slow pacing is punctuated with high and tragic action- particularly in the first and last episodes.
The acting is by and large outstanding. Tom Piggot-Smith is especially good as the icy Ronald Merrick, the one character who appears in most of the episodes. The scene where, clad in a tuxedo, he robotically asks Daphne for her hand in marriage is painful to watch. Likewise Charles Dance (who would later appear in Game of Thrones) is excellent as historian-turned-spy Guy Perron.
It is fascinating to watch the depiction of an affluent, secular Muslim elite. I suppose this still holds today as the majority of secular muslims are highly educated and come from privileged backgrounds (though not all privileged muslims end up secular). It was also fascinating how seemingly laissez-faire muslim rulership was to foreign interlopers, though of course this could be artifice constructed by Paul Scott (author of The Raj Quartet) but it makes for a compelling narrative nonetheless.
If you have about 15 hours to spare then The Jewel in the Crown is well worth watching. A few scenes are boring, but that’s what the fast forward button is for.