The Jewel in the Crown
By Simon Leake
The Jewel in the Crown, adapted from Paul Scott's Raj Quartet
novels, tells the story of the final years before India gained
independence in 1947. It is rare for a filmed adaptation to successfully
preserve the richness and complexity of a great novel, but this epic
miniseries succeeds both as personal drama and historical panorama.
In 1942 Daphne Manners, a naive young woman newly arrived in the town
of Mayapore, befriends Hari Kumar, an Indian-born journalist who has spent
most of his life in England. With his dark skin and educated English
accent, Hari feels like an outsider wherever he goes, but Daphne
understands his plight and they become romantically involved. Their
developing relationship is jealously observed by local police chief Ronald
Merrick, a man haunted by his own demons. When the lovers are attacked in
the gardens of the ruined Bibighar palace and Daphne is raped, Merrick
seizes his opportunity, pins the crime on Hari, and has the young man
jailed. Distraught, Daphne flees to her aunt's home in Kashmir, where she
dies giving birth to a half-caste child. The focus then shifts to Sarah
Layton, a young Englishwoman who becomes fascinated by the story of Daphne
and Hari, and who will have her own encounter with Ronald Merrick.
The events in the Bibighar gardens become a symbol of the violent
struggle for Indian independence, and other symbols--Daphne's bicycle, a
length of butterfly lace, a picture of Queen Victoria on an Indian
throne--appear and reappear, linking people and events. This helps to give
coherence to the plot even as it spans five years and expands to include
many characters whose lives intersect in complex and unexpected ways.
With a huge cast and breathtaking location photography, The Jewel in
the Crown was an enormous undertaking when it was made in the early
1980s. Twenty years later it has lost none of its power, and it remains
one of the best films ever made for television.