Masterpiece Theatre: Peacock Spring

Program Description

Just over a decade ago, director Christopher Morahan and writer Ken Taylor helped bring the multi-award-winning "The Jewel in the Crown" to public television audiences. They recently returned to India to film The Peacock Spring, a gripping drama about culture clash and family loyalty in India, circa 1959.

Adapted by Taylor from Rumer Godden's novel, the two-part story airs on May 31 and June 7 on PBS. Versatile actor Peter Egan (known to Masterpiece Theatre audiences for his roles in "Lillie," "Paradise Postponed," and "A Perfect Spy") heads a large cast of British and Indian actors in the BBC production.

Egan plays Sir Edward Gwithian, a high-ranking British diplomat posted to New Delhi who has two teenage daughters in boarding school back in England. Suddenly, the girls, Una (Hattie Morahan) and Halcyon, known as Hal (Laura Barneby), are summoned to join their father in India.

Sir Edward is eager for his daughters to get along with their new governess, Alix Lamont (Jennifer Hall), a beautiful Eurasian -- her father is French and her mother Indian -- with whom he is having a relationship. In fact, Sir Edward has sent for his daughters, and installed Alix as their governess, to provide a respectable cover for his affair.

Alix enthusiastically introduces the girls to Delhi society, placing far more emphasis on horse-back-riding and French than on the more rigorous academic subjects she is ill-equipped to teach.

Soon Una and Alix come into conflict over Alix's teaching methods and her elevated place in the household. Fearing she will be unprepared academically for higher education, Una seeks help elsewhere in the household and discovers Ravi (Naveen Andrews), the undergardener. Unbeknownst to Una, Ravi is a university-educated Brahmin with a talent for writing poetry who is hiding from the police because of a crime he committed as a student. Hal, meanwhile, develops a crush on a dashing young army officer (Ashok Banthia) who is actually interested in Alix.

Una and Ravi fall in love and begin a secret affair, but it is Hal's deepening infatuation with the army captain that concerns Sir Edward. He decides to send Hal away to a remote Indian boarding school rather than allow her to indulge in her romantic fantasy.

With Hal in boarding school, Sir Edward announces he will marry Alix. Feeling completely alone, Una consummates her affair with Ravi and becomes pregnant. She resolves to elope with Ravi on the same day her father and Alix are to embark on their honeymoon. Una disguises herself as Ravi's Indian wife and the two lovers flee to Ravi's grandmother's house. With no money, and no grasp of the language or culture, Una begins to see a different India than the one viewed from the safety of her father's walled estate.

Best-selling writer Rumer Godden evokes the magic and heartache of India as the youthful idealism of Ravi and Una is confronted by the hard reality of living with the disapproval of family and society in the late 1950s. Godden also expertly contrasts the opulent, insulated lifestyle of the colonial British with the striving, hard-scrabble existence of the native population. Many of her novels have been adapted into films, including The Black Narcissus and The River.

The Peacock Spring is a ZED Ltd. production for the BBC and is produced by Glenn Wilhide and Sophie Balhetchet. Phillippa Giles is executive producer. The two-part series is presented on PBS by WGBH Boston. Rebecca Eaton is series executive producer for Masterpiece Theatre and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Russell Baker is host.

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