Watching the magnificent The Jewel in the Crown, based on the (even better) Raj Quartet by Paul Scott brings back many thoughts and memories of the year of first transmission (1984), a significant year for me. Putting that to one side, two of the many things that strike me watching the series again now:
Although only half-way through the series, the style of the dramatisation is one that seems unimaginable nowadays. Each episode mainly consists of two-handers between characters – sometimes main, sometimes minor. These scenes are long interactions, sometimes unbearably tense (I literally could not watch the prison scene between Merrick – who was the most hated man in Britain the day after the first transmission – and Kumar) and sometimes apparently banal – but it is through these scenes that the allegories and drama are perceived. This structure is repeated in episode after episode, providing a stylised framework for the exciting events that occur during a world war and a country in the throes of cultural and revolutionary change.
And second, I am amazed at the roles for women "of a certain age"! Not only do we have the young Daphne Manners and the sisters Susan and Sarah Layton, but we have a range of middle-aged and elderly women – Barbara Batchelor (Peggy Ashcroft), Mabel Layton, Lady Ethel Manners (Rachel Kempson), Mildred Layton (Judy Parfitt) and other less central ladies – who are allowed simply to "be" themselves, at relative length. How often these days does one see ladies who will not see 30 again (by a long way) as significant characters in a mainstream drama series? (I exclude series with titles along the lines of "a drama series about oldish ladies".) Because I rarely watch TV, I don't know the answer, but I can guess it. It is truly wonderful to watch these actresses convey so subtly and convincingly and unhurriedly, their characters' experiences of life, emotion and wisdom.