A Suitable Boy

BBC One / iPlayer

The BBC’s adaptation of A Suitable Boy arrived trailing a mild controversy in its wake: namely, is Andrew Davies, a white Welshman, really the most… well, suitable candidate to adapt Vikram Seth’s epic saga of post-partition India?

What Davies does have, of course, is experience in wrestling mammoth historical doorstops onto the screen, including War & Peace – which, clocking in at 6,000 words less than A Suitable Boy, feels like a decent enough dry run. As an aside, he also has form on the matter of suitable boys, having played matchmaker for many a literary heroine – most famously Lizzie Bennet and a damp-shirted Mr Darcy.

Seth’s 1993 novel, in which widowed matriarch and devout Hindu Mrs Rupa Mehra (Mahira Kakkar) plots to arrange the marriage of her bookish, headstrong daughter Lata (Tanya Maniktala), covers territory familiar to any Jane Austen fan. But it’s also the story of India in the early years of independence: a sweeping, panoramic survey touching on everything from religious and caste conflicts to women’s rights and land reform.

It’s beautifully played by a terrific ensemble cast, including Indian film superstar Tabu as Saeeda Bai, a bewitching singer and courtesan. Though, as always with these things, it’s the mothers who gets all the best lines: “Do you think we can cure her of these theories?” Rupa asks of Lata, a student at the local university, before warning that “poetry never leads to anything good”. (The fact her daughter has been attending poetry recitals with a Muslim boy seems highly unlikely to change her view on this.)

It looks gorgeous, too: while dramas set in 50s Britain are generally a sort of ashen grey, here director Mira Nair conjures a rich world of colourful silks, pink palaces and lush vegetation, soundtracked by an evocative score featuring sitar royalty Anoushka Shankar.

Devotees of the book will inevitably mourn the absence of Seth’s tender, sun-warmed prose, but Davies does a good job of capturing the humour and humanity that made it such a cherished modern classic.

In the Long Run

Sky 1/ NOW TV

Idris Elba’s period comedy, inspired by his childhood on a Hackney council estate, is so authentic, even the script seems to have been written in the 80s. This week’s third series opener, for example, saw Walter (Elba) getting into a flap because his mother was coming to visit. The result was basically like an episode of Terry and June – albeit less white and middle-class – played with great charm by a likeable cast, but without much in the way of what you’d call actual jokes.

The Last Wave

BBC Four / iPlayer

It’s French, it’s subtitled and it’s on BBC Four. But anyone looking to The Last Wave (aka La Dernière Vague) for their new Euro arthouse fix is going to be disappointed by this supernatural hokum, in which a bunch of surfers disappear inside a magic cloud (yes, really) only to return hours later, boasting some spooky new powers. Despite the obvious debt to Les Revenants (and the odd nod to Jaws), this one is more like a cross between Lost and Baywatch (but with no Pammy or The Hoff, sadly).

Published in Waitrose Weekend, July 30 2020 (c) Waitrose Weekend

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