Customer Review

163 of 165 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ONE OF THE BEST THINGS YOU WILL SEE - IGNORE THE BAD REVIEW!, 25 Nov 2005
By A Customer
This review is from: The Jewel In The Crown: The Complete Series [DVD] [1984] (DVD)
I was absolutely outraged when I read the only other review of this DVD. Please do not let it prevent you from purchasing one of the very best dramas ever presented on television.
First off, let me say that 'The Raj Quartet' by Paul Scott - the four novels from which 'The Jewel in the Crown' was adapted - is one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written. Every sentence is as sublimely perfect as something written by Jane Austen; yet the scope and sweep of this epic story is enough to rival Leo Tolstoy's 'War and Peace', particularly in the way it effortlessly moves from panoramic to personal drama. The most staggering thing, however, is how the characters are so acutely real and multi-dimensional. They are all distinct individuals with unique thoughts and personalities.
The only reason I have given this four stars instead of five is that some of the detail is lost from the books, but it does about as much justice as thirteen hours can possibly do to a total of over two thousand pages. Sensibly, the dramatist Ken Taylor chose to select a few storylines and develop them fully, rather than cram in the entire story and make it feel rushed. The presentation is so beautifully nuanced, with so many subtleties and hidden gems, that you will have to watch it many times to fully appreciate the immense care heaped upon this production by everyone involved.
The story is set in India during World War Two. It chronicles the years leading up to the granting of Indian Independence in 1947. Several pivotal events symbolise the indelible damage that British rule had had in India at that time - such as a rape, more than one character's descent into mental illness and, above all, a brutal and unforgettable 'interrogation' sequence as one character decides to teach another his concept of the true meaning of the relationship between the British and the Indian (the rulers and the ruled). However, every one of the brilliantly varied cast of characters is affected by these events: some are destroyed; some are saved; for some the future is uncertain. The story does not patronise us with a cliched happy or unhappy ending. Like real life, some things are left unresolved and not all the 'good' characters get the happy ending they deserve. The one certainty is that none of them will ever be the same again after the great 'divorce' between Britain and India.
The casting is little short of inspired. In addition, the length and complexity of the scenes allow the actors to develop their characters slowly, gradually peeling away layer by layer. The cast is a real ensemble and there is tremendous chemistry between all the actors. As the central protagonist Ronald Merrick - the one character to appear in all four of the books and who links everyone else together - Tim Pigott-Smith is masterful and compelling. He breathes life into a character who is only ever seen through the eyes of other people. Geraldine James delivers a marvellously complex performance as Sarah Layton. Although she can sound a little monotonous at times, there is so much going on beneath the surface - as she herself says in one of the interviews, 'You have a life going on inside you.' I was astonished to discover that Charles Dance never read the books because his portrayal of Guy Perron is so faithful. He simply oozes charisma and gives a truly star-making performance. Art Malik is outstanding as Hari Kumar, perhaps the most important and haunting character in the story. He makes you feel the perpetually insurmountable plight of the character so intensely. Daphne Manners, my favourite character from the books, is exquisitely rendered by Susan Wooldridge. The way she makes the plain character become beautiful is wonderful to behold. However, the person who steals the show is undoubtedly Peggy Ashcroft as Barbie Batchelor. Her performance is absolutely superb, simply remarkable. Think of the best performances we have seen in TV drama: Alec Guinness in 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' (and the sequel 'Smiley's People'); Keith Michell in 'The Six Wives of Henry VIII'; Sian Phillips in 'I Claudius'; Eric Porter in 'The Forsyte Saga', to name only a very few. Ashcroft's performance here is up there with the best of them and hers really is an unforgettable tour de force.
And that is just the leads! The supporting cast is filled with richly developed characters, all fabulously well cast. Special mention must go to Judy Parfitt as Mildred Layton, Wendy Morgan as Susan Layton and Eric Porter as Count Dmitri Bronowsky, but I could go on and on. However, one thing I will say is that several of these actors are too old for their parts or rather different physically, but you soon cease to notice and it will not matter at all to viewers who have not read the books.
'The Jewel in the Crown' was originally transmitted in January 1984, yet it has dated extremely well. Filmed largely on location, it is a visual feast comparable to a lavish Merchant Ivory film and the entire atmosphere is cunjured up with such consistantly scrupulous authenticity that watching it really is like escaping into the almost alien world of 1940s' India.
The long awaited DVD release does not disappoint. The fourteen episodes are split over four discs and the transfer is miraculous. Entirely digitally remastered, every scene looks fresh, clear, vibrant, warm and intoxicating and the sound has been just as perfectly rectified. There are optional audio commentaries throughout four of the episodes. One of them is a solo commentary by the producer and co-director Christopher Morahan, which is rather tedious. The other three are moderated interviews with four of the principal cast members: Tim Pigott-Smith, Geraldine James, Charles Dance and Art Malik. These are highly entertaining and extremely interesting. On the downside, there is no accompanying booklet and there is an unavoidable and very long, very loud anti-piracy advert at the beginning of each disc.
The overriding quality of this drama serial has, to my mind, only ever been surpassed by 'Brideshead Revisited'. This was reflected in the unprecedented multitude of award nominations it received. It claimed all four nominations for the 1985 BAFTA Award for Best Actress (for Geraldine James, Peggy Ashcroft, Susan Wooldridge and Judy Parfitt - Ashcroft won); Tim Pigott-Smith won Best Actor, with both Charles Dance and Art Malik also nominated; and it deservedly won the award for Best Drama Series/Serial. It also won several international awards.
Considering the price, this is an extraordinary bargain: the production is impeccably assembled and magnificently acted; the story has just about everything - romance, tragedy, humour, tension, excitement and it is extremely thought-provoking; the characters are so immediately human; and the DVD set is superlative.
You cannot go wrong with this one!
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 7 Sep 2009 09:24:38 BDT
I couldn't agree with your review more strongly. It is a truly magnificent piece of drama with strong performances from all characters. It is very faithful to the books but please do read them as well, they are exceptionally well written!

Posted on 19 Sep 2012 00:09:32 BDT
veritas says:
Obviously you liked the production. It is worthy no argument, but I have to comment your closing potentially misinformative "the DVD set is superlative" statement. Unless perhaps you have had the privilege of having viewed a remastered release version (?), the retail (PAL) DVD release I viewed was 'worthy' only of being described as an abomination. Like so many superb dramas emanating from the recorded on videotape era, e.g. "The Camomile Lawn", they have received rather roughshod treatment in their subsequent transfer to DVD. It is pleasing to think this drama may have subsequently received a deserving digital remaster, which I think is important to make especial reference to in any review, but without being dismissive of equally valid perspectives of those whose experience of a DVD version may differ from ones' own.
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