Beecham House (ITV)
You’ve probably seen Beecham House being heavily promoted as ‘the Delhi Downton’, and for once it’s not just lazy journalism. Writer-director Gurinder Chadha, who previously gave us a Bollywood spin on Jane Austen in Bride & Prejudice, is upfront about the Crawley saga’s influence on her latest creation, set in the heat and dust of Hindustan in the days before British rule.
Tom Bateman plays John Beecham, an unusually woke (by 1790s standards, anyway) former soldier who has quit the British East India Company, declaring: ‘India belongs neither to the British or the French.’ Determined to make a fresh start in Delhi, he sets tongues a-wagging by arriving with a mixed race baby, no wife, and a tantalisingly enigmatic backstory.
Sturdy of boot and bushy of beard, a pistol slung on each hip, Bateman swaggers through the show like a cross between Ross Poldark (in a cheeky wink to its BBC rival, the first episode featured him literally scything with his shirt off) and Game of Thrones’ Jon Snow.
Everywhere he goes, he causes women – including Dakota Blue Richards’ porcelain English governess – to start giving potential love rivals icy death stares. Less impressed is his mother, played by Lesley Nicol, aka Downton’s Mrs Patmore, who’s been promoted upstairs to huff and puff as the lady of the house, Henrietta Beecham – a character, sadly, with none of the sly charm or acid wit of Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess.
It’s a sumptuous, lavish production – no expense or elephant spared – that recalls that great ITV triumph, The Jewel in the Crown. Except there the Indian characters had to play second fiddle to all the stiff upper-lip Empire types; here, a fine cast of Asian actors including Adil Ray, Viviek Kalra, Pallavi Sharda and Kulvinder Ghir get to do more than just say ‘Yes, Sahib’, while the script makes no bones about the British predilection for greed and treachery.
Throw in a black sheep Beecham brother (Leo Suter) and a moustache-twirling colonial villain (Grégory Fitoussi) and Beecham House might just succeed in making that Downton-sized dent in the nation’s Sunday evenings. Your move, Poldark.
Emily Atack: Adulting (W)
While others landed with a bump (hello Seann Walsh), last year’s reality TV see-saw left likeable Inbetweeners actress Emily Atack riding high, and she’s since cashed in her jungle chips with a live tour, a book and a clothing range. And now there’s this, in which the 29-year-old tries to get a grip on ‘this whole adult thing’. The fact she began by polling her Instagram followers on whether she should have a baby suggests she may have some way to go yet.
Catch-22 (Channel 4)
Joseph Heller’s savage World War II satire has often been described as ‘unfilmable’, not least because its deliriously funny wordplay loses something in the translation. But this new version gives it a good go, with Christopher Abbot’s terrified bombardier Yossarian taking flak in the air and on the ground – much of it from the mad dog generals on his own side, including George Clooney (who also exec produces) and Hugh Laurie.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, June 27, 2019
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