The Far Pavilions will be released on DVD Tuesday, June 28th by Acorn Media. Set mostly in India, though a portion happens in Afghanistan, this was HBO’s very first miniseries, originally airing in 1984. It tells the story of M.M. Kaye’s bestselling novel, unfolding in the late 19th century. Ashton “Ash” Pelham-Martyn (Ben Cross, Star Trek, 2009; Chariots of Fire) is white British boy raised by Indians. Sent back to the Britain at age 11, he returns to India at 19 as a member of the Guides (basically, the British occupying army). Ash reconnects with his childhood love, Princess Anjuli (Amy Irving, Alias, Carrie), who is set to marry someone else. Later, when Anjuli’s husband dies, Ash sets off to rescue her from being burned alive in tribute.
The Far Pavilions is a sweeping love story spanning many years. Ash and Anjuli are meant for each other, and the only reason the Indian girl defers their connection is out of duty to her bratty, selfish sister, Shushila (Sneh Gupta). Shushila doesn’t deserve this, but it demonstrates Anjuli’s warm nature. Ash encounters with other women, most notably Belinda (Felicity Dean, Persuasion), at the beginning of the miniseries, but no one has the history with him that Anjuli does, and no one is more perfectly matched. The two share sensibilities, as well as deep emotional attachment.
But The Far Pavilions is not just a love story. There are plenty of battles as the British move into Afghanistan, and Ash is often torn between his career and his woman. Ash tries to do the best job he can, but when he doesn’t always agree with the decisions the leadership makes, it isn’t easy. His best friend in the Guides is gung-ho Wally (Benedict Taylor), who doesn’t have the same qualms, but also likes Ash a lot. Their campaigns have the backdrop of history to authenticate them.
At more than five hours in length, The Far Pavilions moves along at a surprisingly spry pace. There are slow points, mostly when Anjuli and Ash are apart, but the actors are convincing, the scenery is lavish, and the story has so much cultural intrigue, especially as Ash is torn between the British and Indian worlds, that attention is easy to keep. In fact, Ash’s internal struggle, beautifully displayed on Cross’s face, is as much the main focus of the story as the romantic plot.
Besides the cast mentioned above, other well-respected actors are involved in smaller parts, including Christopher Lee (Lord of the Rings, the new Star Wars movies), Rupert Everett (My Best Friend’s Wedding, A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and Omar Sharif (Doctor Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia) as Ash’s loving adopted father, Koda Dad. The whole thing feels like a movie made decades ago, that has held up remarkably well, and deserves to be remembered.
The Far Pavilions was previously released on DVD in 2000, but that edition did not include subtitles. The picture has been restored to a much higher quality for this release. While the special features are text only, and can be viewed in less than 10 minutes, seeing a restored, wonderful television event like this is worth the price of the DVD.