irajoel’s review published on Letterboxd :
A rare treat for those who love long leisurely mini series. This extraordinary 14 hour film was first shown on pbs in 1984 and has now been lovely restored and it shines and glows all over the place. It was originally filmed on 16mm with lots of grain that has now been botoxed and is lovely to look at.
Also it is in its original ratio of 4:3 which is how all you big screen t.v. owners should watch it, not all stretched out like Kellyanne Conway’s face. I treated myself to a copy of this dvd with the help of a gift card from a friend and a year later finally gave myself the time to watch it, the first time since I first saw it so many years ago. It took me a week to see all the episodes.
This series set the standard for everything that came after and I can say that I was once again bowled over by it. It opens fast introducing us to two of the characters that will generate the story forward, Ronald Merrick played with great force by the recently deceased Tim Pigott Smith and Hari Kumar played by Art Malik who is also superb.
The film is set in India in the early 40’s during World War II and the last years of British rule and concludes in 1947 when India finally gains it’s independence. The events are mainly seen through the eyes and experiences of one family the Layton’s who is headed by the cold, nasty and alcoholic mother played by the great Judy Parfitt whose husband is in a German prisoner of war camp and her two daughters, the flighty Susan and the more down to earth and liberal Sarah played equally well by Wendy Morgan and Geraldine James.
The other great performance is by Dame Peggy Ashcroft who it might be said was having her Indian year winning the Oscar for her supporting role in “A Passage To India” and here she gives a great heartbreaking performance, that is complex and layered. The series is jam packed with great performances and the large cast includes Eric Porter, Rachel Kempson, Rosemary Leach, Charles Dance and many others. The film is based on the Raj Quartet novels by Paul Scott who died before he could see this vast and wonderful film that was made from his books. There are many many scenes of breathtaking richness and beauty, the scene where Geraldine James and Charles Dance walk through an abandoned mansion the furniture covered in white sheets without speaking is one of the most memorable scenes I think I've ever seen, it's that good. There is lots of intensity in love and war and the depictions of violence are there but this being 1984 they’re turned out in careful consideration of what was acceptable back then. Put this one Mary on your must see list.