The Jewel in the Crown

I recently rewatched this mini-series, which first aired 30 years ago, and was surprised not only at how good it was but at how modern it still seemed.  The subject is the last 5 years of the British Raj in India,  Most of the story lines concerns the English community there.  Many have been born in India or spent much of their lives there, and now have to face return to a country they may know little about.  The show handles some tough topics along the way: interracial romance in a racist community, abortion, anti-Semitism, homosexuality, and appalling social snobbery.  Like most TV productions of the 1980s, much of the violence occurs off-screen, but is no less effective for that.

The bloody denouement of partition eventually intrudes even on the entitled bubble of English society, affecting characters we have grown to understand and care about.  The last episode, in particular, will stay with you for a long time.

The acting is outstanding throughout, and even the minor characters are complex and interesting.

GOT Watch:  A very young Charles Dance has an important role in the later episodes, smooth of skin and tight of buns, but already sporting the deep-set eyes and prominent nose of Tywin Lannister.

Available on DVD

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Even the Rain

Spanish film-makers arrive in Bolivia to shoot a picture about Columbus’ discovery of the New World, and his war on the native inhabitants. Midway through the film-making, a water war breaks out, and the film-makers discover to their horror that some of the locals they have hired to portray the Indians are ringleaders of the water protests.  Panic ensues. The oh so-liberal film guys accuse the local government of exploiting the Indians just like Columbus did.  “Oh,” says the local government official, “how much are you paying your actors?”  No easy answers here. The locals endure, as they always have.

The film is fictional, but the water war portrayed here actually occurred in Cochabamba, Bolivia, about 15 years ago.  The foreign consortium building a water delivery system tried to create a water monopoly, going so far as to even prohibit private collection of rain water — hence the title.

The cast of Spanish and Latin American actors is fantastic throughout, although only Gael Garcia Bernal will be familiar to American audiences.

Some violence, but most occurs offscreen.  This is really a political film, and a thought-provoking one.

Available on DVD.

Narcos

The story of Pablo Escobar, based on the memoirs of an American DEA agent. The show takes us from the early days of Escobar’s drug business (which will have some amusing resonance for Breaking Bad fans) to his eventual emergence as one of the wealthiest men in the world, poised to take over the Colombian government.  Why he didn’t succeed is the subject of this story.

Despite its provenance, this isn’t an “Americans to the rescue” story — much of it is told from the Colombian’s viewpoint.    We see Colombian policemen, government officials and, yes, politicians, who are determined to bring Escobar down, in an environment when all too many officials, even at the highest levels, were willing to take the substantial bribes Escobar offered and look the other way.   When, about 7 episodes in, you see a high-value hostage negotiating for the release of other hostages before she will release a video, you realize just how much courage that took.

The two American DEA agents were instrumental in bringing the attention of the US government to the dangers of Colombia becoming a narco-state — for better or worse, the beginnings of the War on Drugs. But the Colombian government was justifiably cautious about accepting the help America offers — satellite intelligence is acceptable, direct military intervention much less so. Interestingly, one of the most effective forms of American assistance turned out to be extradition — the Columbian drug lords were terrified of the American prison system.

This show follows the current fashion of having the characters acting Colombians actually speaking Spanish instead of in “Frito-bandito” accents.  I like this approach, but it’s not for everyone.  (In fact, native Spanish speakers have been complaining about the accent of the Brazilian actor playing Escobar).

The series is not overly violent, as shows on this subject go, but there is a mass rape depicted in an early episode that may be disturbing to some younger viewers.  Interestingly enough, there is very little drug use, and when you see one of Escobar’s gang actually using cocaine, late in the series, you realize immediately that his future is not bright.

Minor spoiler:  There is going to be a second season.

GOT Watch:  Pedro Pascal, who played Oberyn Martell in Season 4, appears here as the DEA agent’s Columbia-based partner.

Currently streaming on the Netflix subscription service, but should be available on DVD eventually.