Film & Television

Costume Dramas to Enjoy this Winter – No Corsets Required

TV Review: Indian Summers, Home Fires, Mercy Street and War and Peace

No one really uses the phrase “old-fashioned girl” when they talk about me. I was born in the 1960s, grew up in the 1970s, started a career in the 80s and a family in the 90s. I’m thoroughly liberated, technically savvy, and spend most days in either black cargo pants or jeans, oversized sweaters and chunky ethnic jewelry. But after hours, I very happily transport myself to halcyon days gone by. In my mind at least, I change into gloves and pearls, the occasional tiara. For the last six years, on Sunday evenings, I’ve pretty much lived at Downton Abbey.

So what to do, as it nears its end?

Luckily, those of us who relish costume dramas can find consolation on our televisions or computer screens. There are several series worth watching, whether you purchase or rent DVDs, catch up on-demand, or watch the newer shows in “real-time.”

RELATED: ‘Downton Abbey,’ Season 6: Time to Say Goodbye — on Both Sides of the Pond

Indian Summers


This Masterpiece series, set in the Indian countryside as the British Empire is losing its grip on the country and its people, starts off slowly. But, over the course of the first season’s nine episodes, it gains momentum as mysteries unfold, forbidden romances emerge, and the seeds of rebellion are sown.

The show starts in 1932, during “the era of masked balls and black terror.” For years, the English ruling class has moved to an idyllic village in the Himalayas each summer. There, they drink, dance, and behave badly at The Royal Simla Club (“No Dogs or Indians”) under the watchful eye and iron glove of society widow Cynthia Coffin. The always-wonderful Julie Walters is particularly despicable in the role, pulling the strings of the up-and-coming Secretary to the Viceroy and ruthlessly destroying all who cross her whether they’re British or “natives.”

Indian Summers follows the intersecting fortunes of two families, the young British politician’s and a local Indian family with an ambitious son trying to build a career within the system and a revolutionary daughter who longs for Indian independence. But it’s clear from season one that the English won’t be leaving without a fight.


Home Fires


The scene is a rural English village at the beginning of the Second World War, and the series (another from Masterpiece) offers a particular treat for Downton fans. Samantha Bond, also known as Lady Rosamund, the Crawleys’ aunt notorious for her strong opinions and fabulous hats. Bond portrays one of Great Paxford’s doyennes while her rival is played by Francesca Annis. As the village prepares itself for war, the two women clash on everything from who will lead the Women’s Institute to where to put the public bomb shelter and what to plant in the town’s victory garden.

Other engaging female characters (Home Fires is very much a women’s story) include a young war widow, the vicar’s wife, a domestic abuse victim, a maid with a crush, a teacher with a secret, and an ethical accountant caught in a web of illegal profiteering, among many others.

Home Fires is based on Julie Summers’ acclaimed book Jambusters, which chronicles the work of England’s Women’s Institute, described as “the backbone of the home front.” It’s a compelling look at the important — and emotional — role of women when their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers went off to war. Read More »

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