The Jewel in the Crown Review

  • Title:  Jewel in the Crown
  • Season: Complete Series
  • Episodes: 14
  • Discs: 5
  • Cast: Art Malik, Susan Wooldridge, Tim Pigott-Smith, Geraldine James, Charles Dance
  • Network:  ITV/Granada
  • DVD Format:  Standard, Color, DVD, R1, NTSC

Jewel in the Crown takes place in India from 1942 to 1947 (the year of India’s independence from the UK). It was also filmed “exclusively” in India. The people of India are Indians – therefore throughout this review when I refer to Indians I am referring to the people of India, and not using a pejorative term for Native Americans. Just clearing that up in advance. I bought this series on DVD because it is considered to be a classic, though I had not seen it before. the television series is based on the, “Raj Quartet” by Paul Scott. This may explain the somewhat disjointed nature of this series, because it definitely feels almost like three separate series based on the same theme, time period, and place.

The first two episodes feature Daphne Manners and Hari Kumar. Daphne lost her mother when she was young and recently lost her father and brother in the war [World War II]. So Daphne heads out to India to live with a friend of her aunt, whom she immediately calls “auntie”. The first thing her aunt does is throw a big party to introduce Daphne to everyone. At the party, Daphne meets Hari Kumar, an Indian who had lived in England since he was two, and had attended British schools, including Chillingborough. Daphne also meets Ronald Merrick an inspector in the local India police. Daphne goes on a date with Hari, then on a pity date with Merrick because he caught her with Hari. Merrick makes it clear to Daphne that he doesn’t approve of her mixing with the Indian natives (I won’t repeat his language.) Daphne is not impressed by Merrick or his racist language. She’s even less impressed when he tells her on their first and only date that he “quite thinks they should become engaged”.

However, Hari realizes he can’t have a relationship with a “white, English girl” and tries to avoid seeing Daphne. Daphne keeps trying to ignore this and everything around them. Hari takes Daphne to a Hindu temple at her request. It’s quite a foreign experience for her – and nothing is explained to the audience either, but Daphne isn’t completely freaked out either, to her credit. Again, she and Hari take a break – not seeing each other. Daphne busys herself working in the hospital and at the local mission (as a sort of candy striper or volunteer).

One night Daphne and Hari meet in an outdoor garden. Hari tries to get Daphne to promise to not see him again – but they soon fall into each others arms, and make love. However, they are jumped by a gang, and Daphne is raped, while, Hari is beat up. Daphne makes it to her aunt’s house. The police are called in, and Merrick arrests Hari and a group of his friends – none of whom had anything to do with it. Merrick interrogates, beats, and tortures Hari. Later, we learn he physically fondled him as well. And for much of the interrogation, Merrick keeps Hari naked. Later, he has Hari and the others thrown in jail under the Defense of India Act – which means no trial, no lawyer, and he’s essentially thrown in a hole and forgotten about. Daphne, meanwhile, discovers she’s pregnant. She goes off to another aunt, has the baby, and dies in childbirth. That’s the first two episodes (so they end with the main charcter dead, and the other in prison on trumped-up charges.) Merrick arrested Hari because he’s a racist and he’s jealous, and wanted Daphne for himself. He also massively exceeds his authority.

Next, we meet the Layton family, who are in the houseboat next to the aunt who’s now raising Daphne’s child. (We never really see the child, and the aunt appears briefly later.) Mildred “Millie” Layton is the head of the household, as her husband is in a German POW camp. She’s stuffy, rude, bigoted, and an alcoholic. No, she’s not very nice. Her eldest daughter, Sarah, works as some sort of aide for the military in India (we’re never told her title that I recall, though she gets promoted twice over the course of the series). The younger daughter, Susan, is engaged and preparing for her wedding to Captain Bingham. There’s also Aunt Fenny, Mildred’s sister, who’s as bigoted as her sister and a mean-spirited gossip. Barbie Batchelor and Mabel Layton are the two old biddies – they are kind-hearted, fast friends, and pretty much try to help any one they come across, especially in Barbie’s cse, the less fortunate. So, of course, Mildred hates them both, especially Barbie. Barbie had spent most of her life as a teacher for young, unfortunate, and even “untouchable” children in India at mission schools, but is now retired. When Mabel dies – Mildred chucks Barbie out in the street, even though she has plenty of extra space (an entire extra cottage). Fenny doesn’t help, spreading a rumor that the never-married spinster Barbie has an unnatural attraction towards women. This is false, of course. Fenny just figures it must be true of a woman who never married. Barbie briefly ends up at the vicarage, tries to return to the missions, and eventually dies as a result of a rickshaw accident. Much of her very late problems could have been avoided if Mildred and Fenny had been a bit more kind.

Susan, meanwhile, marries Teddie Bingham, and gets pregnant on her honeymoon. Bingham’s bunkmate at the army camp is Merrick, who talks his way in to the wedding as best man. After the honeymoon, Teddie is killed and Merrick injured seriously. Since the only version we see of Teddie’s death is what Merrick says, we don’t know if he was involved in causing Bingham’s death or not – but he does later marry Susan. When Susan hears her husband has died in the war, she gets quite hysterical – and doesn’t handle it well. She also goes into labor, seems overly concerned her child might not be “whole” and a few weeks later, attempts to kill the child, a boy. Luckily, the India nanny intervenes and rescues the child.

Sarah continues working for the army. She meets Guy Perron (Charles Dance) a nice bloke. We first see Guy meeting a political officer who had sat in on an interview with Hari Kumar, looking in to possible abuses by Merrick. However, the panel is scandalized by what Kumar says, and has the worst bits stricken from the record. Guy is an intelligence officer, who is told to check out a Maharanee’s party for loose lips that might cause problems for a number of military operations. He attends the party in a uniform of the “Army Education Corps” – his old job. We’re thinking that Guy is there to nail Merrick – alas, this never happens. Even when the political officer gives him the file on Hari Kumar and Merrick, with the option to act on it or destroy it – he burns it. Likewise, even though Sarah and Guy are an obvious pairing, and the two are attracted to each other (and she even sleeps with him) at the end of the series, they are ships that have passed in the night, each going their own way, with their own duties and lives.

Although India’s independence from British rule, and the internal strife in India (especially religious strife between Hindus and Muslems) is mentioned, especially in the later episodes set in 1945 (the end of the war) and 1947, the series doesn’t really get into the details. The division of India into India and Pakistan, and the process of folding independent(-ish) princely states into the new India, is mentioned and the focus of the last episode. However, most of the last episode involves a train trip – that turns into a massacre, where the train is stopped on the track and all Indians are attacked and killed, but the British on the same train are left alone. Since it’s Indians who organized and carried out the attack it’s pretty terrifying.

Overall, I found Jewel in the Crown to be a depressing and harsh series. There’s a lot of blatant racism – especially from characters like Merrick, Mildred, and Aunt Fenny. But the less racist and more accepting characters like Daphne, Sarah, and Guy also though they treat the Indians as human and form relationships with them, in the end, are all doomed. Sarah and Guy survive, but not together, and never find personal happiness or professional satisfaction. Also, although this series teaches a little bit about the end of British rule in India, in the end, it’s not terribly informative. It doesn’t sink as low as to suggest that India needed the British to rule it – but it also doesn’t seem to understand why India would want independence.

Overall, this was a slow-moving and depressing series. But the individual episodes do quickly draw you in, and you do care about the characters, it’s just heart-breaking to see horrible things happen to them.