New Masterpiece period drama Beecham House is stunning to look at. The sets are lush, the costumes are beautiful and the world of eighteenth-century Delhi leaps to life onscreen.
Unfortunately, the show’s beautiful veneer is forced to cover over a multitude of cracks.
The first episode of the series is deadly dull and features what is potentially the least interesting male lead we've yet seen on television this year. John is very noble - we know this because everyone keeps telling us this constantly - but he has almost zero personality outside of this oft-repeated fact.
In all honesty, it’s not super clear to me why this show needed to center so heavily on a white male lead – I get that John’s supposed to be a white savior type who somehow actively subverts that trope because he understands the dangers of colonialism and wants India to lead and trade for herself. Which is great, but also…. it’s still John that’s the main character, in the end, and the story’s as much about him as it is the country he’s chosen to make his home in. And, to be fair, there's something that makes me a bit uncomfortable that John's lauded for what is essentially cutting out the middle man in order to use Indian resources to make his fortune? He's not using India and its people for his own gain any less just because he's nice about it.
Like many sprawling period dramas of this sort, Beecham House’s first episode is jam-packed with exposition and character introductions. There’s our hero Beecham, who at first glance seems to be a version of Ross Poldark in India, complete with signature hat and a dramatic coat that initially appears as though it would be entirely too warm for the Indian weather.
I mean, John even has what is essentially a shirtless scything scene. We miss Ross too, guys; but can we try to be subtle?
Beecham has also got a tortured past of some type, which clearly involves the mysterious child, the woman he keeps dreaming about and, most likely, that bizarre opening sequence that saw John randomly rescuing a caravan full of people.
That also, I expect, ties into his clear infatuation with India and his desire to be a fair trader instead of a mercenary like some other folks (cough cough East India Trading Company cough). Much of the first hour is devoted to establishing that Beecham is a different kind of Englishman. He loves India and its people and arts, don’t forget! If there were a drinking game where we had to do shots every time John references his hatred for the East India Trading Company’s colonialist impulses, well…we would never make it to the end of the hour.
It’s nice to see Grégory Fitoussi again – remember when he was, like, the dreamiest part of Mr. Selfridge? He’s still looking great here, but he’s playing a character who is little more than a caricature of a scheming, self-serving French soldier/politician. Will he get to do anything legit in this show? Who can say?
The arrival of Downton Abbey’s Lesley Nichol as Beecham’s mother Henrietta brings some much-needed soapiness and fun to the show’s canvas, between her shock at the existence of the Indian grandson she’s never heard of before, the apparent lack of a mother to said child, and her apparent die-hard conviction that John should marry Violet, the girl who traveled with her on the crossing from England. Why? And why did Violet decide to uproot her life and move halfway around the world? Again, who can say?
Unfortunately for Violet, John already seems fairly smitten with a local governess named Margaret Osborn, a sweet English girl from Devon who is very nice and likable but almost entirely personality-free at the moment. Let’s hope Beecham House fixes that next week, because I’d like to have someone on this show to root for, and she seems like she is going to be my best bet. (She has a semi-tragic story of a dissolute brother that she came to India with who’s since abandoned her for…reasons.)
Sadly, it appears that Hot But Terrible French Captain is also interested in Margaret, so let’s all start preparing ourselves for the fact that her affections will inevitably become just another bone for two dudes to fight over, rather than a story about her.
Elsewhere, in its attempt to be Downton Abbey 2.0, Beecham House also includes a raft of largely indistinguishable servants, most of whom are deeply uninteresting. Several, most notably head servant Baadal and the chef whose name I’m not sure the show ever tells us, are clearly meant to be some kind of comic relief but are often just violently awkward. From speculating about Beecham’s past and current marital status to gossiping about whether any of his female servants are the mother of his son, I can’t imagine there’s a story among this group that I’m terribly interested in seeing. And we’ll all surely have to sit through a long recap of exactly how Chef Nameless learned to make English puddings eventually, so start preparing yourselves for that joy now. Huzzah.
The arrival of John’s old East India Trading Company comrade Samuel Parker is interesting only in as much as he’s obviously harboring something of a grudge against John. Sam, you see, got sacked by the EITC after he testified at some unidentified trial against them, while Beecham apparently skipped out on doing the same and avoided having his name publicly drug through the mud. (Way to live those values, my man.) John, guiltily, makes Sam a partner in his new guilt-free India trading venture, which I’m 100% sure will not turn out terribly in any way.
What did you all think of the first episode of Beecham House?