After a perfectly delightful first introduction to the Viceroy of India, Patrick Malahide’s Lord Willingdon, in episode 4 (entertainingly and ably reviewed by Admin), we begin to get a little more of a sense of what the man’s like in Indian Summers, S01E05. While at first he comes across as a benevolent, if slightly nosy (and dotty) uncle with a fondness for meddling and matchmaking, we see more of his political acumen and canniness in this episode, as well as a brief glimpse of his claws when he’s crossed. But who in their right mind would dare to cross the Viceroy?
“Prepare to Eat Cake”
Before we get to that, we see the outcome of Viceregal Private Secretary Ralph Whelan’s (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) proposal to Madeleine Mathers (Olivia Grant), the U.S. steel heiress. She said yes (no kidding!), so just about everyone in Simla has been invited to a lavish engagement party at the Viceregal Lodge, hosted by the Viceroy and Vicereine. This includes people you wouldn’t normally think would be invited to such a swank ‘do, like missionaries Dougie (Craig Parkinson) and Sarah Raworth (Fiona Glascott), Dougie’s assistant Leena Prasad (Amber Rose Revah), for whom he has an irresistible attraction, and newbie tea merchant Ian McLeod (Alexander Cobb), who has just been thrust into the business due to his drunken uncle’s untimely (yet rather predictable) demise. It’s all quite delightfully convoluted and about to get more so, and no one can figure out why the invitations mysteriously read, “Prepare to eat cake”. Ralph even mentions to local hotspot owner Cynthia Coffin (Julie Walters) that he’s taken out “a small loan” to tide him over for the summer, in part because of the expense. Does the Viceroy not pay him enough?
Inviting the Untouchable
But Ralph has to get some business out of the way first. In accordance with Lord W’s directive to “break things up a bit” with regards to Gandhi’s Hindu majority, Ralph offers Dr. Kamble (Sanjeev Bhaskar), the Untouchables leader, a guaranteed seat at parliament which he says Dr. Kamble would never be able to obtain from the Indian National Congress. To further cement his offer and gain a political foothold, Ralph takes the unprecedented step of personally inviting Dr. Kamble to his engagement party as a show of his sincerity – without clearing it with Lord W. first. Surely that won’t cause much of a problem!
Afterwards, Ralph checks in with the Viceroy. Lord W. first asks if he’s been “kitted out” with his costume, which is apparently all the Vicereine’s idea – plausible deniability if the idea turns out to be a bust, I’m thinking. 😉 But then Lord W. takes Ralph aside for a more private chat: his ADC (I’m assuming the abbreviation refers to his “aide-de-camp“, a character we haven’t met whose duties seem to be similar yet different from Ralph’s) has informed him that Ralph “took it upon [him]self” to invite Dr. Kamble to the engagement party. The phrasing alone tells us that Ralph has just sailed into very murky waters, although Ralph doesn’t seem too worried yet. “Well, naturally I told him he was misinformed,” adds Lord W., with a small, deprecating laugh without much humour in it, giving Ralph a last-second opportunity to save himself. However, seemingly heedless of any danger, Ralph confirms that he did indeed invite Dr. Kamble as a deliberate “extra push” to encourage Untouchable support for the British.
The Viceroy Is Displeased
Unfortunately, Ralph has badly miscalculated his boss’ priorities because the Viceroy isn’t the slightest bit pleased by his strategy. “So, you asked him along. To a party, here, at the Viceregal Lodge, kindly hosted as a particular favour to you by my wife,” he replies angrily, emphasizing the Vicereine’s concerns. While some missteps might be forgiven, messing with a social occasion with the Vicereine’s name attached to it is a serious error. Now even Ralph manages to grasp the obvious: “Have I blundered?” he asks. “Oohh!” replies the Viceroy in perfect exasperation. Not only might Mrs. Viceroy be ticked, but Lord W. has invited the Maharajah of Kolhapur as his personal guest. The Maharajah is a high-caste Brahmin who will be very displeased at having to “[break] bread with an Untouchable”, and the last thing the Viceroy wants is to anger him or any of his other high-powered guests. Both Ralph and the Viceroy have political and social machinations at stake, but the Viceroy seems more concerned about maintaining his office’s unblemished image and the status quo.
Ralph tries to argue his case (he used to be a magistrate, remember) by pointing out that the Untouchables are Hindus as well, but Lord W. isn’t persuaded. He’s brusquely unimpressed with Ralph’s “insufferable piety” – which it totally isn’t, but let’s not disillusion him. Then he tries to lay down the last word on the matter: “The Hindus play by their own rules, and we jolly well keep our noses out of it!” When Ralph persists in asserting that they can use the occasion to “smash any future deal” between the Untouchables and the Indian National Congress, Lord W. flatly tells him that “the night of [his] own engagement” is not the right time for such a move, adding “Well. I am… disappointed,” in sepulchral tones that sound like the beginning of the end for Ralph’s career. It’s my favourite line of the episode. 🙂 Mr. Malahide packs a lot of meaning into those four doom-laden words, making the Viceroy every Disappointed Dad rolled up into one. You can just about hear the Anvil of Career-Limiting Moves whistling rapidly towards Ralph’s head.
Ralph Puts His “Best Man” On It
But Ralph still refuses to back down, asking the Viceroy to trust him to make it work. He says he’s even assigned his “best man”, Aafrin Dalal (Nikesh Patel), to see Dr. Kamble around. However, Lord W. still doesn’t seem very reassured. While he was impressed with Aafrin’s potential when he first met him, describing him as Ralph’s “little munshi” or “teacher”, he seems a good deal more dubious about Aafrin’s capabilities now. Nevertheless, Lord W. appears to concede the point to Ralph for the time being, saying somewhat fatalistically that he hopes Aafrin can at least “teach [Dr. Kamble] how to hold a knife and fork”. Not exactly a resounding vote of confidence. Although Ralph appears to have survived the Viceroy’s displeasure for the moment with his “ask forgiveness rather than permission” strategy, I suspect the Viceroy’s gone off to make a little note next to his name. Now the pressure’s on both Ralph and Aafrin to see that there aren’t any major faux pas at the party.
Social Climbing and Blackmail
Meanwhile, speaking of matters of rank, social-climbing missionary wife Sarah proves that she’s ruthless when it comes to boosting her own status. She unashamedly blackmails Alice (Jemima West), Ralph’s sister, to get her a seat further up the party table and thus closer to the Viceroy. And unfortunately for Alice, Sarah has real leverage; she’s managed to discover that Alice isn’t the soldier’s widow she claims to be. In fact, Alice abandoned her very-much-alive husband back in the U.K. – for cheating, although no one else knows that part yet. Not that Sarah cares; she’s only interested in using Alice’s shame to get what she wants, falsely lamenting about what people would say if they knew. However, Simla’s entrenched social mores are so strong that even Alice has trouble pulling strings. Ronnie Keane (Rick Warden), who’s in charge of table layout, categorically refuses to change Sarah’s seat, calling Alice’s request “impossible”. Under the Order of Precedence which governs all of Simla’s formal social affairs, a missionary’s wife should be seated much farther down the table, next to the Sub-Divisional Officer for Drains and Sewage – which, I have to say, is actually a very appropriate place for her. I can’t stand Sarah. 😛 But it leaves poor Alice caught between a rock and a hard place.
It’s Party Time!
The hour of the party arrives and, animosity seemingly forgotten, the Viceroy and Vicereine (who unfortunately has no dialogue – which is a shame, since she seems to have been quite a character in real life) fondly gaze upon Ralph and Madeleine’s arrival… dressed as Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI of France. “Cake will be eaten”, indeed! Surely there’s no overt symbolism to the Viceroy’s private secretary and his heiress fiancée dressing as a pair of monarchs who were famously overthrown by revolutionary peasants over class disparity (among other things)! Or perhaps it’s a sign they know they’re part of a dying reign. Oh, the irony! But no, apparently the Vicereine just thought they’d be really cool costumes. Or hot, since they’re drastically overdressed for the climate. But so’s nearly everyone else.
Everyone goes in to be seated, with rank being even more firmly delineated not just by one’s place at the table, but by the centrepieces. The Viceroy and Vicereine are seated behind one of the most truly enormous fruit and flower centrepieces I have ever seen (there’s no possibility of their seeing farther than a few feet down the table, let alone conversing with further-away guests – hmm, perhaps it’s by design), while further down the table, centrepieces gradually shrink in size and opulence until they’re completely absent. Admin and I speculated that if the Maharajah is truly that opposed to breaking bread with an Untouchable, perhaps he could just nosh on a centrepiece instead. 😉 It would probably keep a family of four well-fed for a month. Meanwhile, desperate to appease Sarah after more blackmailing, Alice covertly switches placecards so that Sarah has her seat near the Viceroy, while Alice is next to Dougie Raworth and across from Aafrin and Dr. Kamble. Sarah seems a little bewildered by her success as she takes her seat, nervously aware that she’s drastically out of her depth.
More rank consciousness arises when the waiters serving the first course (some sort of prawn thing) conspicuously omit to serve Dr. Kamble, serving guests on either side of him instead. One of Aafrin’s co-workers pointedly notes that the Maharajah should be pitied for having to dine with an Untouchable – that’s if the Maharajah can even see Dr. Kamble past that centrepiece, which I doubt. Lord and Lady W. can’t see a thing, so they’re only vaguely aware of some faint disturbance in the Force when Dr. Kamble is snubbed. But then Alice saves the day by personally insisting that Dr. Kamble be served, over the latter’s polite protests that he doesn’t want a fuss. He’s really the least rude person there.
A Toast to the Bridegroom-to-Be
Then it’s time for Lord W. to toast the happy bridegroom-to-be. He recounts how he first met Ralph as a “very green” 21-year-old assistant magistrate in Madras, when he was the Governor. One day he and Ralph rode out to one of Ralph’s “blasted assizes” (which I think implies that Ralph held them rather frequently) to hear the case of a “dark, little Indian tenant farmer” who was contesting the Forestry Commission over a half-acre of land. They nicknamed the farmer “Bob Cratchit” because of the tiny child on his lap. Ralph won the case for the farmer and every village headman on the way home turned out to greet him, calling him “maa-baap”, or “mother-father”, in adulation. Ralph clearly has something of an affinity for lower-caste Indians and underdogs. The guests applaud the story appreciatively and Ralph appears moved, but Lord W. gives Ralph what seems to be a bit of a warning glance over the edge of his champagne glass. He still likes Ralph, but I think he’s telling him not to push him again over matters of social order. It’s another wonderful small touch by Mr. Malahide.
A Secret Revealed
Dancing follows after dinner. As Ralph leads Madeleine out in the first dance, Madeleine’s brother Eugene (Edward Hogg) and Cynthia congratulate themselves on their matchmaking skills from the sidelines. Cynthia asks Eugene if the Mathers’ steel magnate father will be attending the nuptials, and Eugene lets slip a secret that Admin and I had already guessed: their father doesn’t have the money to come out to India. He barely has the money to remain solvent, having used up his capital buying out his own company after losing government work contracts in the Crash. However, Madeleine (allegedly) has no idea because the news has been kept from her (I have my doubts about this, but okay). Cynthia’s both shocked and infuriated to learn that the heiress she carefully picked out for Ralph is nothing of the sort, although you’d think if her spies were any good, she would’ve found out a long time ago. When Eugene offers to refresh her glass after revealing the bad news, she vindictively hisses, “You sound like a waiter!” Nope, no grudge forming there. I wonder how, or if, she’ll break it to Ralph?
Waltzing with the Viceroy (Stupid Lucky Sarah!)
Still later, Sarah has somehow managed to snag a waltz with the Viceroy (and I must say that Mr. Malahide dances very elegantly 😉 ). She’s clearly transported as she gazes into his baby blues, enraptured by her brush with greatness. He, however, seems to be having some trouble figuring out who the heck she is in the first place. “Which one is your husband?” he asks, attempting to identify her. “I expect he’s gone home,” lies Sarah breathlessly, even as they dance past poor hangdog Dougie, who’s just realizing he’s been thrown under the bus. But who’d want to dance with Dougie when they could dance with Lord W.? Okay, I kinda can’t blame Sarah for that one. In any case, Captain Percy, the ever-present Viceregal bodyguard, is ready in case Sarah gets completely out of hand. Or the Vicereine, if she’s especially intractable.
More Promises, Secrets, and Dalliances
The politicking and drama continue away from the dancing. Still clad in his Louis XVI outfit, Ralph swears to Dr. Kamble that the Viceroy will publicly support the Untouchables in their right to the provincial quotas, even if Gandhi and the Indian National Congress oppose them. I guess he still hasn’t figured out that he shouldn’t promise the Viceroy’s support for things without checking with him first. Alice urges Leena not to let Dougie’s unhappiness with Sarah get in the way of their love, which seems… somewhat ill-considered coming from someone who left the U.K. to get away from her husband, never mind that she’s already well aware that Sarah can be a tad ruthless. But Alice’s judgement isn’t perhaps the best; while discussing the certificate’s theft with Aafrin outside in the garden, she drags him off into some bushes to avoid Ralph – and they begin passionately kissing in a sudden downpour. Admin and I saw this development coming ages ago, but it’s somewhat hampered by the fact that Jemima West and Nikesh Patel don’t quite have the chemistry to make it work.
Also in the snogging-in-the-rain department, Ralph and Madeleine come out into the garden for some air and get soaked in the downpour as well. I don’t think Mrs. Viceroy is going to get her damage deposit back on those costumes. :-/ “Are you happy?” asks Madeleine and Ralph replies, “Can’t you tell? I’ve never been happier in all my life.” Since we know Ralph is something of an accomplished politician (and occasional liar) who plays everything close to the chest, Madeleine probably has no real idea of what he’s thinking or feeling. That “Can’t you tell?” seems like foreshadowing to me.
As if on cue, just as Ralph declares his happiness to his new fiancée, he catches a glimpse of his past in the form of Jaya (Hasina Haque), along with her son, the half-caste boy Adam (Shachin Sailesh Kumar), at the other end of the garden. It’s been implied for some time, but I think we can say the mystery of Adam’s parentage has been solved; Ralph probably fathered Adam with Jaya during his time in Madras and subsequently left her, which seems to have driven her a bit mad. Ralph’s would-be assassin was likely a relative of Jaya’s – perhaps her father – seeking revenge for her disgrace. And now she’s snuck onto the Viceregal grounds to bring Adam to “meet [his] father”, which would cause a massive scandal. However, Ralph isn’t a trained politician for nothing. Before Madeleine can realize anything’s amiss, he coldly orders his majordomo Bhupi (Ash Nair), in Hindi, to bodily remove Jaya and Adam from the premises. Ralph almost gets away with it scot-free except that hangdog Dougie, lurking moodily on a nearby balcony, inconveniently witnesses the whole thing. Oops.
Coming up next, it seems we learn more about Ralph and Jaya, and a new complication enters Alice’s life in the form of Captain Billy Farquhar (Jamie Maclachlan) of the Royal Irish First Battalion – like Alice’s life needs more complications. And Aafrin has to deal with the potential consequences of becoming a British woman’s lover. I don’t think we’ll see the Viceroy next time but he seems to keep on top of local gossip, so it’s probably only a matter of time before he hears about everything.
As usual, “Indian Summers” was beautifully filmed with gorgeous settings, set decorations, costumes, music, and lush colours and textures very much providing an authentic Thirties feel. I do wonder what happened to those centrepieces afterwards, though; were the Viceroy and Vicereine eating fruit for a month? 😉
I thought this was a highly enjoyable episode, even if we didn’t see as much of the Viceroy as the previous one. It was extremely interesting to see his claws come out when he thought that Ralph might embarrass the Vicereine at the party, and that he’d overstepped his bounds by inviting Dr. Kamble. Lord W. was reasonably low-key about it, all things considered, but Mr. Malahide provided several small touches that let us know just how displeased the Viceroy really was. He was especially expressive in the scene where he chastises Ralph, giving us more than a hint that Lord W. could probably be just as cold bloodedly ruthless as Ralph, if not more so, if he was pushed. Mr. Malahide’s Viceroy is also something of a study in contrasts; he wants to maintain good relations with the upper-caste Maharajahs, but he also acknowledges Indian servants and underlings, so he’s not as completely class-bound as he might be. So he’s really constantly straddling two worlds: the British and Indian, and the upper and lower classes. Or even his own satellite government versus the British one. Oh, and he also dances divinely. 😉