Sunday nights on TV One marks a return to traditional form - a British period drama. Only we're not in Britain in Indian Summers but in 1932 Simla - in the foothills of the Himalayas - from where the British Raj ran the country while escaping the heat.

A familiar name among the show's ensemble of fresh faces is veteran star Julie Walters who plays Cynthia Coffin, landlady at the Royal Simla Club. She's queen bee of the social scene among the expatriates who do rather like a gin or three after doing their daily duty maintaining the rule of the empire in the subcontinent.

"Everybody comes to [the Royal Simla Club] and gets blasted," says Walters, "so she knows who's having affairs. She fancies herself a little bit."

A major strand of Indian Summers' sprawling narratives is about Cynthia's meddling, as she takes it upon herself to find a wife for prospective new Viceroy Ralph Whelan (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) and arranges a rendezvous for him with American socialite Madeleine Mathers (Olivia Grant).


Other key characters include Ralph's outspoken sister, Alice (Jemima West); Aafrin Dalal (Nikesh Patel), a young clerk in the Indian Civil Service drawn into their incestuous world; and his sister Sooni (Aysha Kala), who becomes involved in the independence movement.

Indian Summers might seem to be in familiar territory - Richard Attenborough's Gandhi, David Lean's A Passage to India, many of the films of Merchant Ivory and as well as television series The Jewel in the Crown all told tales of the empire in India.

But writer Paul Rutman - who had taught in India - conceived the series, with its different take on the British involvement in the country, on a visit to Darjeeling where a hotelier showed him photos of pre-independence Simla.

"I found the atmosphere, the nostalgia, the weather and buildings of hill stations fascinating. And these were photos of people like us, 80 years ago, having tea parties and trying to recreate this idea of England in an environment that wasn't England.

"I thought about this whole world being either forgotten or swept under the carpet. Empire is still something that many on the right are quietly proud of, but a source of deep shame and self-castigation from the left. With Indian Summers, I wanted to ride those contradictions. There's a generation that's dying out now for whom empire was a huge part of their lives, so I wanted to ask the question: what did we think we were doing out there?"

The first series of Indian Summers, filmed in Malaysia, was a critical hit and drew favourable Downton Abbey comparisons when it showed on Channel 4 in Britain earlier this year. A second series is in the works.

When: Sundays, 8.30pm
Where: TV One

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