Jemima West in a scene from Indian Summers.
Jemima West in a scene from Indian Summers. Contributed

Indian Summers sizzles on the small screen

INDIAN Summers has been branded as the new Downton Abbey, and rightly so.

The period drama, currently airing on Foxtel's BBC First channel, centres on the divide between the British elite and lower classes.

It also features lavish costumes and is beautifully filmed, thanks to its setting at the foothills of the Himalayas in 1932 India.

The 10-part series traces the decline of the British Empire and the birth of modern India through the lives of the residents of Simla, a town where the colonial elite escape the Subcontinent's oppressive summer heat.

Malaysia's island state of Penang doubles for India. Filming also took place on a historic steam train in Borneo for the show's atmospheric opening scenes.

Jemima West as Alice in a scene from Indian Summers.
Jemima West as Alice in a scene from Indian Summers. Matt Brandon

"That scene was particularly realistic... the heat was so stiffing there was no need to add anything," Jemima West tells APN.

"We get to film in these very old houses in tropical conditions, and it does make it more believable than filming in a studio in a grey (UK) suburb."

The train delivers West's character Alice back to her childhood home and into the arms of her brother Ralph, the private secretary to the Viceroy of India.

"She has made the decision to go back to India because she was trapped in a life that didn't suit her," West says.

"Because she grew up in India there's been this fantasy of what life could have been. She's going back to India to look for that freedom and that ideal. It's quite a bold move for her.

"But between what we fantasise and what the reality is there's a huge gap. That's going to be Alice's story, really, that she has to deal with the reality of what life in India is."

Despite being separated for much of their lives, the siblings seem to have an unnaturally close bond.

"For viewers it's quite an unsettling relationship because it's not clear what they are," she says.

Julie Walters in a scene from Indian Summers.
Julie Walters in a scene from Indian Summers. Contributed

"They lost their parents so they only really have each other. They haven't seen each other for ages... but it's very difficult to reminisce about the past and be in the present. They are discovering who they really are as adults."

The show's sprawling narrative follows a variety of other characters, including club manager and social matriarch Cynthia Coffin (Julie Walters) and Aafrin (Nikesh Patel), a young Parsi man working as a clerk in the Indian Civil Service.

The series has already been renewed for a second season, which is currently filming in Malaysia. The show requires key cast to be away from home for six months at a time.

"You get homesick at times, but we're all a big family now," West says.

"It's a wonderful series for so many reasons and it's great to see people are enjoying it as much as I personally enjoyed it when I first read it."

Indian Summers airs Saturdays at 8.30pm on BBC First.

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