The ‘Delhi Downton’ has closed its doors, which means that Sunday nights will be a little dull now that Beecham House is no longer filling a prime time spot. However, the good news is that its available to purchase on DVD. Did you watch the series? What were your thoughts? Were you as gripped as I was? Here’s my review of what became a must-watch for me:
Gurinder Chadha’s Beecham House grabbed my attention from the opening scene, it was fairly obvious that one of the main actors in the show was not going to die – however the fact that John Beecham (Tom Bateman) was shot in opening scenes had me on the edge of my seat from the outset. Three years later and we see that Mr Beecham has not succumbed to his wound and arrives at a spectacular Delhi Mansion with a half-cast baby in tow whom he appears paternal towards. In India in the late 18th century, the period in which the series is set, France and England were battling it out to reign supreme. This historical undercurrent runs through the whole series.
Beecham certainly appears to have an eye for the ladies, and he’s already been established as a heroic figure having saved a group of rich Indians from bandits in the opening sequence. His past career involves working for the East India Company where his brother Daniel (Leo Suter) is still a Soldier – however what he’s looking for now is to trade.
Beecham is also keenly aware of his mother’s imminent arrival, the bold and forthright Henrietta Beecham who has travelled all the way from England to stay at Beecham House having not seen her son for years. Lesley Nicol plays her and is predictably superb as the meddling matchmaker. Bessie Carter (daughter of Jim Carter (yes that’s Mr Carson from Downton Abbey) and the multi-talented Imedla Staunton) plays Henrietta’s companion, Violet and she’s got her heart set on a proposal of marriage from Beecham – although that does not appear to be forthcoming. Especially as he also has another beautiful lady on his radar, Governess, Margaret Osbourne (Dakota Blue Richards).
The scenery is breath-taking, the costumes are eye-catchingly spectacular and the casting is on point. Twists, turns and all the ingredients for a watchable period drama and its easy to see why the Downton reference is made. Enjoy it, it’s a treat indeed.
Here are a few words from cast members Tom Bateman and Lesley Nicol:
What attracted you to the role?
For me it always comes down to script and characters. I was sent the first three scripts and I really wanted to know what happened next. I got very invested in all the characters. There’s a great line that John says which is, ‘I’m not here to build walls’ and I thought the idea of working with two very different cultures would be very interesting.
Why is John Beecham so appealing to play?
I’ve never played a character with so much weight to him, and that appealed to me straight away. My characters are normally quite energetic, but John is very strong, quite hard and you don’t really know who he is at first. He internalises, he’s a man of mystery. He’s got a baby but there’s no mother and he doesn’t tell anybody anything about that, which instantly makes you think something’s going on because otherwise why wouldn’t he just tell people who the baby’s mother is? He’s inherently a very good man who’s trying to do the right thing, but he’s been through the wars. He’s also very forward-thinking. He left the East India Company because he didn’t agree with the way they did things which, at the time, was very bold. A lot of people just went along with it and didn’t question it but he refused to be part of it. For someone to stand up against the norm makes them very intriguing to me.
Is the series an ensemble piece?
It’s called Beecham House and there are quite a few Beechams – me, my mum, my brother, plus the wonderful Bessie [Carter] who plays a family friend, [Violet Woodhouse]. There are lots of other characters associated with the house, who are inspiring to work alongside. What I loved about it was that we all had great stories. Even characters who have slightly smaller roles in terms of being on screen, they have a falling-in-love story or a political story. Every moment they appear is very rich. Nobody was sitting there going, ‘I wish I was in it a bit more’. It was wonderful.
What’s John’s relationship like with his family?
He’s being pulled in lots of different directions by lots of different people: his mum, his brother, a love interest or two! Just give the guy a break! He starts the series on his own, and by the end things have changed a lot. He thought he’d lost his brother forever, he hadn’t seen his mother for years, he was very independent, then they all come together again.
What do you think viewers like about period drama?
They look beautiful, they’re very rich in composition. You’re instantly in another world. And horses! You don’t get to see horses that often. But for me, the reason I love filming period dramas, is that they instantly make you act differently. People don’t talk about their feelings as much. They don’t say, ‘Oh, I really fancy you’. And you don’t touch each other. So you have to find another way of expressing those feelings which is really fun. There was a scene in Vanity Fair in which Olivia [Cooke] and I can’t say how we feel, because it wasn’t done, but my character is going to [the Battle of] Waterloo and it was so rich and dramatic. You’re torn between what you want to say and what you’re allowed to say. And it oozes sexiness because you’re watching and going, ‘God, just kiss her!’ It’s like Mr Darcy and Lizzy Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. You know they’re going to get together but it takes six hours of anticipation to get there.
What was it about the character of Henrietta that attracted you to the role?
It was a number of things, actually. I was very attracted to the fact it was a different kind of role for me. This character gave me something meaty and very different from what I’ve been doing. I absolutely love India. I did a movie there ten years ago called West is West, so to go back was a huge draw. Gurinder was another big draw and I knew they were getting top people on board for cast and crew, and it’s ITV primetime, so what’s not to like! It was a lovely thing to land on the doorstep.
Who is Henrietta?
She’s John’s mother. On the face of it she’s a very respectable, god-fearing, upper middle class woman, very conservative. She comes over to India on a very long boat trip with her companion Violet who’s played by Bessie Carter. They have this hideous journey and when they arrive they’re completely poleaxed because everything is so foreign to them.
What’s Henrietta’s relationship like with Violet?
Well Violet is unmarried and desperate to find a husband. She’s the daughter of a dear friend and so Henrietta asked her to come along as her companion and Violet does that very well. They play cards together and have a very good relationship. But the bottom line is that Violet does want a husband and as far as Henrietta is concerned, John is a very good-looking and a kind man with a certain amount of wealth with an amazing house, so she’s very much hoping to position John and Violet together so that they eventually get married and come back to England.
It appears that John has secrets at Beecham House?
When they arrive they’re introduced to Margaret Osborne [played by Dakota Blue Richards]. They don’t know who Margaret is but she looks very settled in his company and they think, ‘hang on a minute!’ So they’re not very nice to Margaret. Then other women turn up and there’s a baby and they’re very confused about who’s who and what’s what.
Is John pleased to be reunited with his mother?
They haven’t seen each other for 12 years so he’s totally different from last time she saw him. He’s older, wiser. She has two sons and they’re both in India. There’s definitely a base love that they all have for each other. But Henrietta is challenging, there’s no doubt about it, and he’s not been quite ready to tell her everything that’s going on in his life when she turns up. She has to try and deal with all of this information and she’s not easy to be around because the whole experience has thrown her so much.
What’s happened to John’s father?
He was a bad’un and got taken to Australia. He was a gambler and a drinker. He gets mentioned occasionally but he’s absent so there’s a sadness there because she was left on her own which was awful in those days. Her brother took her in, then he died. So that’s one of the reasons for coming to India, as she’s all alone.
What are Henrietta’s character traits?
She is tough, but she’s from a very narrow world. And suddenly she’s in a household with dozens of servants, the food’s all wrong, she gets bitten by mosquitos, she will not wear anything cooler even though it’s baking hot. It’s a different religion, it’s all completely foreign to her. But what’s nice about this character and the arc of her journey is that she does learn and adjust.
Did you do any research into the politics of the time?
I did actually because I didn’t know this period. It’s earlier than I’m used to. I read quite a lot, I did a bit of digging because I wanted to know what it would have been like for her. There weren’t many white women in India at that time. The white men often formed liaisons with Indian women so Henrietta was the outsider in every sense really. I found the political element quite fascinating. About the East India Company and the corruption and the bad behaviour of that time. John Beecham is trying to form a business, but he finds it hard because everyone is terribly suspicious and there are people trying to derail him. But what I like about this series is that all the characters are on a journey. Henrietta and Violet are. The staff in the house are because they have this man turn up who they don’t know and it changes their household completely. Everybody is having a major shift, whoever they are.
Beecham House is drawing comparisons with Downton Abbey, partly because it’s about the servants as much as the landlord of the house. What do you think about that?
People are comparing it but I don’t think it’s any more comparable than that really. It’s a different period, a different country. It’s a house with servants and people upstairs but it’s a whole different tone, a whole different feel to it.
Make sure you get your hands on a copy of Beecham House on DVD, it’s gripping viewing and was released on 22nd July.