The 1984 HBO mini-series The Far Pavilions, an epic six-part extravaganza filmed on location in India, is now available on a two-DVD set from Acorn Media. Based on M. M. Kaye's exotic 1200 page historical romance, the series is a valiant attempt to translate to the small screen the massive novel about a love affair between a British officer and an Indian princess set against the British occupation of India in the late 19th century and the beginnings of the Indian revolution against that occupation. It is a leisurely told tale that tries to make the most of the exotic setting by filling the screen with lavish processions of camels and elephants, striking native costumes and scenic wonders.
The story's emphasis on the clash between eastern and western cultures gives it an unexpected relevance still today, more than 30 years after it was made. The problems inherent when a foreign power takes control of a people with vastly different values and tries to impose its own norms on those people is as current as the latest bulletin on CNN. That the last few episodes deal specifically with an abortive British excursion into Afghanistan adds an even further currency to the series. While there will certainly be those that take exception to the series' portrayal of the smug Brits and their feelings of superiority, there will also be those who object to the portrayal of devious natives and their outlandish barbaric customs. In this sense the series is an equal opportunity offender.
The series stars Ben Cross as Ashton Pelham-Martyn, a British officer who had been raised thinking he was Hindu after the death of his parents, and only later shipped off to England and Amy Irving as his beloved Indian princess. They are joined what for the period would have been the equivalent of an all star supporting cast. Unfortunately, in some cases it seems more like an all star miscasting. Sir John Gielgud, for example, is hard to buy as a hard-nosed British officer sent to take charge in Afghanistan. Rossano Brazzi portrayal of the aging duplicitous Rana of Bhihthor is something less than authentic. Too many of the lesser known character actors indulge themselves with eye rolling and indication. But perhaps the biggest problem in the film is Cross who gives a rather wooden one dimensional performance. Best known for his performance in the Academy Award winning Chariots of Fire, Cross is not very believable as a romantic action hero.