In Indian Summers S01E07, Simla is all abuzz because it is time for the annual summer play. This year they are performing Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. The Viceroy, Lord Willingdon has a starring role as the very young and impetuous Algernon. According to Cliff’s Notes, “Algernon symbolizes the wild, unrestricted, curly-headed youngster who is happiest breaking the rules.” Typecasting! 😉 However, Gandhi will begin a hunger strike on the night of the play, the ramifications of which put a wedge in the Viceroy’s relationship with Ralph Whelan.
Rehearsals and Chaos
Rehearsals are underway and the Viceroy arrives as Cynthia Coffin and Eugene Mathers are going over the famous handbag scene. Director Ronnie Keane (he’s a busy fellow) tells the Viceroy they are wrapping the handbag scene up, but the Viceroy isn’t in a waiting mood. “I’m ready now, Mr. Keane,” he says firmly. So Eugene is unceremoniously booted offstage and the Viceroy begins his lines.
It is chaos as Ronnie tries to direct a stubborn Viceroy who speaks over an equally stubborn Cynthia’s lines while stage hands carry furniture all about the place. Then Cynthia does a bit of adlibbing, “Never speak disrespectfully of the Royal Simla Club, Algernon. Only people who can’t get in do that.”
That doesn’t make a lot of sense since Viceroy Algy had been going on about “social possibilities,” but he laughs uproariously at her quip anyway. RFodchuk thinks maybe he’d had a whiskey or two before getting on stage, since that’s the only way to explain his good humor, and I’m inclined to agree. 🙂
Ronnie isn’t so good humored and calls Cynthia out on her unwelcome additions since he figures Oscar Wilde is hard to improve upon. Eugene also makes the mistake of getting onto her about changing the script. Cynthia runs up to Ronnie demanding he cut “Wooden Features” (Eugene) from the play and recast. She’s just cross because she found out the Mathers siblings are broke *after* she’d successfully managed to get her golden boy Ralph engaged to Madeleine. The Viceroy raises his hands in bemusement as Cynthia storms off the stage, but he is such a gentleman that he uses the time to study his script. He keeps an eye on his watch though, so she better watch it. I hope he steps on all of her lines!
She goes back to the stage, and Lord W. is checking his watch again though it’s only been a few more seconds. She takes her seat and quickly gets up again to curtsey. Rude Cynthia makes it look like a total afterthought too. But, Lord W. remains the gentleman and nods politely. It is a great sequence. Cynthia Coffin is such a villain. She makes life miserable for all who displease her!
Ralph Brings News
As mentioned earlier, an imprisoned Gandhi will be starting a hunger strike on the night of the play. Ralph interrupts rehearsals in light of this. It is clear from the Viceroy’s body language that he has a good idea what is vexing Ralph. He is fidgety as he intensely studies his script. Ralph asks if they would be willing to postpone the play. The way Lord W. asks “why,” is so mellifluous, but it absolutely drips with deeper meaning. Of course he knows why, but he is not pleased with Ralph who had previously told the Viceroy to trust him as he worked his magic on Dr. Kamble, the leader of the Untouchables, in episode 5.
Ralph is concerned it will look disrespectful. Cynthia leaps in, somewhat hysterically: “Disrespectful? To who? Gandhi? Oh, my God, Ralph.” Ugh! No one asked you, Cynthia. The Viceroy, however, remains calm and focused, “It’s not a British matter. It concerns the Indians of the higher castes and the Untouchables.”
Ralph reminds Lord W. that they had promised the Untouchables a voice, which isn’t entirely true since it seemed like Ralph was the one doing all the promising in episode 5. Nonetheless, Ralph raises a very good point, “he starves himself while we drink, and dine, and laugh.”
The Viceroy sticks to his guns saying it is not a British matter. Ralph sticks to his saying they must avoid ill feeling. Cynthia pipes in again telling Ralph that it will cause ill-feeling among his “own people.” That might be a bit of foreshadowing since there is viewer speculation that Ralph is actually half Indian himself, and that he might have a connection to the Untouchable caste via Jaya and the boy who has just been revealed as his son “Adam”.
The Viceroy takes over again: “It’s not a British matter, and changing our plans might suggest otherwise. They’ll tear themselves apart over this, and we will be the stronger for it. We keep our heads down and we carry on.” I love the way he speaks here. Willingdon’s voice has a lovely lilt as he patiently explains his stance. It seems like everything is, at this point anyway, going along as he would like it…everything but Ralph’s unexpected determination to give the Untouchables genuine support.
Ralph can’t resist getting in one more dig, saying the British are closing their eyes and turning their backs. With that, the Viceroy suddenly gets up, slamming his script on the chair. Even Cynthia looks impressed. The lighting is pitch-perfect as it highlights just how imposing and intimidating the Viceroy truly is. “I will hear no more about it. This discussion is over. Is that understood?” And with that he leaves. It is so excellent.
As he leaves, a frantic Keane goes running after him. Poor Ronnie. Their departure gives Ralph a chance to tell Cynthia that Jaya has been murdered. Cynthia acts surprised, but there is a good chance she’s behind it.
It’s showtime, and Cynthia got her way in firing Eugene. She had him replaced with the young Scottish Ian McLeod. However, Ian hasn’t shown up. That is because he heard Jaya’s screams while she was being murdered. He told the authorities that he had hired her and also that she had stolen his business partner Mr. Ramu Sood’s deceased wife’s wedding sari. That was enough to get Mr. Sood arrested for murder. But, Ian knows he couldn’t have done it because Mr. Sood was sitting on his porch when Ian heard Jaya’s screams. So, just as the curtains are ready to go up, Ian is visiting Mr. Sood in jail.
No worries, though, as far as the play goes because Ronnie Keane knows all the lines and is more than happy to play the part of Jack Worthing. Cynthia acidly mentions that Jack is meant to be 29. “What, has he had a hard life in our version?” Ha-ha! The Viceroy’s character, Algy, is about 27, but Cynthia doesn’t worry about that since he’s the Viceroy and can do as he pleases. Ronnie is unflappable, “oh, c’mon, crack a smile.” I’m torn on the Ronnie character. He is really funny, but he also has a nasty, racist streak and speaks very disrespectfully to the Indian staffers.
Anyway, the play goes over a treat. Lord Willingdon looks slim, trim and dapper. The audience loves every minute of it, laughing at all the jokes and doling out plenty of applause. It is a stark contrast to hunger strikes as well as the misery that a battered and bloodied Mr. Sood (a “confession” was beaten out of him) and a guilt stricken Ian McLeod (now determined to make things right and see justice for Mr. Sood) are going through.
I’m really enjoying Patrick Malahide’s performance as Lord Willingdon. He is a very complex character who often comes across as very playful and jolly, but is also extremely thoughtful and serious. He is likable and wants what he feels is best for a rapidly disintegrating British Empire. Clearly, he was on the wrong side of history, but we are seeing him as someone who believes firmly in his convictions. His demeanor remains steady, even when riled, but we get a good notion that he isn’t someone you want to rile up too much.