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Far Pavilions, The (1984)

Courtesy of Goldcrest Films International Ltd

Main image of Far Pavilions, The (1984)
Channel 4, tx. 3 - 5/1/1985
3 x 94-105 min episodes, colour
DirectorPeter Duffell
Production CompaniesGoldcrest Films and Television
ProducerGeoffrey Reeve
ScriptJulian Bond
Original novelM.M. Kaye
PhotographyJack Cardiff
MusicCarl Davis

Cast: Ben Cross (Ashton 'Ash' Pelham-Martyn); Amy Irving (Princess Anjuli); Christopher Lee (Kaka-ji Rao); Benedict Taylor (Wally); Rossano Brazzi (Rana of Bhithor); Saeed Jaffrey (Biju Ram); Robert Hardy (Commandant); Sneh Gupta (Shushila); Omar Sharif (Koda Dad); John Gielgud (Major Sir Louis Cavagnari)

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Raised as an Indian until the age of eleven, the Englishman Ashton Pelham-Martyn returns in the 1870s as a soldier at a time of great turmoil on the North West frontier...

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The Far Pavilions is an unashamedly romantic story of thwarted love and military derring-do set against the exotic backdrop of the Indian Raj. Ashton Pelham-Martyn is an earnest but dependable Englishman who was brought up as an Indian until the age of eleven before being sent back 'home' to become an officer and a gentleman. In exploring the themes of racial and national identity, it was one of several productions, all released at approximately the same time, examining the legacy of Anglo-Indian relations with a critical eye. These include Heat and Dust (d. James Ivory, 1983), A Passage to India (d. David Lean, 1984) and The Jewel in the Crown (ITV, 1984), which began on ITV a few days after The Far Pavilions. Jewel was generally greeted as a more prestigious and serious production, reinforcing the view that Pavilions' story was very old-fashioned.

The narrative is cast in the familiar mould of such popular Empire adventure stories as Rudyard Kipling's 'Kim', P.C. Wren's 'Beau Geste' and 'The Four Feathers' by A.E.W. Mason, all of which had been filmed several times. In fact, Zoltán Korda's The Four Feathers (1939) had been partly photographed by Jack Cardiff, who also lit The Far Pavilions. The unsophisticated appeal of the story is further emphasised by the politically incorrect casting (as Indians) of such disparate international actors as Christopher Lee (British), Rossano Brazzi (Italian), Omar Sharif (Egyptian) and, in the crucial role of Princess Anjuli, the American actress Amy Irving. The strangeness of this decision is particularly noticeable in the many scenes she shares with Sneh Gupta, who plays Anjuli's half-sister. It led Salman Rushdie to excoriate the production, calling it a "'blackface minstrel-show"' and "'the purest bilge"'.

The serial combines real and fictional characters, most notably in depicting the disastrous aftermath of the 1879 Treaty of Gandamak in which the members of the Kabul mission were massacred due to the intransigence of Sir Pierre Cavagnari. He is played fairly convincingly by John Gielgud despite being forty years too old for the role.

Highly enjoyable as a Hollywood-style melodrama, structurally the serial is occasionally awkwardly paced, especially when depicting the protagonists' childhood. This is possibly because it was made as a hybrid film / TV project to offset the huge costs, with production company Goldcrest putting up nearly £7 million to finance it. A two-hour feature film version was also released in some territories as Blade of Steel.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Afghanistan 1879 (2:59)
2. Sisterly love (1:50)
3. The last stand (2:29)
4. Sati (5:00)
Production stills
Cardiff, Jack (1914-2009)
Davis, Carl (1936-)
Everett, Rupert (1959-)
Hardy, Robert (1925-)
Jaffrey, Saeed (1932-)
Channel 4 Drama
Channel 4 at 25