The Far Pavilions (1984)




Director:   Peter Duffell

Starring:  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), Jennifer Kendal (Mrs. Viccary), Felicity Dean (Belinda Harlowe), Peter Arne (General), Adam Bareham (Jenkins), Caterina Boratto (Mrs. Chiverton).

HBO's first miniseries


Forbidden love in 19th century British colonial India between a British cavalry officer and an Indian princess (who has been promised in an arranged marriage).

Ash Pelham-Martyn (Ben Cross) grows up with two Indian princesses and and Indian prince, all of the same family.  He is sent to England for his education.  He returns to India as a lieutenant in the British army.  There he goes into an elite group of soldiers fighting on the front lines in Kashmir and Afghanistan. 

He falls in love with one of the British girls, Belinda Harlowe (Felicity Dean), but his heart is broken when she turns out to be a gold-digger.  To make his life even more difficult, his rebellious streak constantly gets him into trouble with the British army hierarchy.  In fact, he is punished by being sent to make sure a traveling wedding party gets to its destination in another province. 

Ash, however, gets a big surprise when he realizes that the dual wedding is for the two princesses that he knew when he was a youngster.  He reveals his true identity to Princess Anjuli (Amy Irving in brown face) who is very pleased because as a young girl she had had a crush on Ash and, apparently, still does.   Ash falls in love with Princess Anjuli, but they cannot marry because the Princess Anjuli is also be be wed.

When the entire wedding party arrives at its destination, Ash soon realizes that the groom has suddenly decided to re-negotiate the wedding terms completely in his own favor.  The wedding party is virtually held hostage by the unscrupulous groom, Rana of Bhithor (Rossano Brazzi), and his court.  Ash is able to get his wedding party free from the more onerous terms of the marriage, but he still does not get his girl. 

Ash heads back to his elite unit, which is now about to start on the Second British-Afghan war.  Ash knows that his unit is going to be in deep trouble in Afghanistan and tries to warn his friend Wally (Benedict Taylor) and the British command, but no one is listening.   The hierarchy gives Ash an intelligence job in Afghanistan to keep he troops warned of the actions of the Afghanis. 

So Ash is now at about the lowest point in his young life. And to make matters even worse, he learns that the Rana of Bhithor is about to die and the princesses are expected to commit suttee (i.e. let themselves die on the funeral pyre along with their husband).  Poor Ash faces the potential loss of his beloved, the massacre of his military unit and possibly his own life.  Can Ash turn things around?  Watch and see. 

The movie goes into a lot of detail on several Indian customs, which drags down the movie a bit.  I found it difficult to view Amy Irving as an Indian princess and she is so dour throughout that one wonders what's the attraction for Ash?   


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

Historical Background:


See A Passage to India (1984).



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