Chitra Ramaswamy, Guardian, reviews the expensive BBC series, directed by Andrew Davies. July 2020.
There is a lot riding on A Suitable Boy (BBC One), which is a fate that befalls pioneering and overdue series such as this. It is the BBC’s first period drama – in more than half a century of forays into the past in horse and carriage, from where you get a rather restricted view of history – with an entirely south Asian cast and no white characters. No, not even one cantankerous dame protecting her fortune from her deathbed.
So, this six-episode distillation of Vikram Seth’s 1,300-page panorama of post-partition India has to do everything, at once, in multiple territories. It is a tall order, especially when some were unhappy with aspects of the adaptation before the opening credits rolled. Does A Suitable Boy succeed? Could anything on such challenging terms?
“When India became independent in 1947, it was partitioned into two countries,” begins Andrew Davies’s staunchly traditional adaptation, which is directed by Mira Nair and was filmed on location in north India. “India was free, but the land and the people were divided for ever.” Succinct – and, appallingly, never more true than now. That is the power of this genre, one that my Indian family has gobbled up since my parents first fell for The Barchester Chronicles. Great period drama speaks to the times. A Suitable Boy, interestingly, speaks more to the times in which it was written. But I will come back to that.There is a lot to get through in the first episode. Four large families, the birth of Hindu nationalism, an upcoming general election, the requisite music and dancing and first and foremost – this is India, and a Davies adaptation, after all – a wedding.
Lata, a spirited university student, is preparing for her sister’s arranged marriage as her mother warns her that she, too, “will marry a boy I choose”.Some people were not happy with the choice of Davies – who is not just awhite British writer, but the white British monarch of the period adaptation – to tell this vast story of newly independent India. But in many ways Davies is the most suitable boy. It does not get more Pride and Prejudice than a girl being chivvied into marriage by her mum.
About Chitra Ramaswamy: https://www.theguardian.com/profile/chitra-Ramaswamy