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'Beecham House,' June 14, PBS


This is a scene from the six-episode television series "Beecham House," which debuts on PBS June 14, 2020. (CNS photo/PBS)

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NEW YORK (CNS) -- A welcome escape is in store for visitors to "Beecham House," a lavishly produced historical drama set in India. The six-episode series debuts on PBS on Sunday, June 14 (check local listings for time and channel), while the entire series is streaming now on PBS Passport.

Filmed on location in Delhi and Rajasthan with an international cast, "Beecham House" re-creates a time of transition on the subcontinent before British rule. In 1795, Mogul Emperor Shah Alam (Roshan Seth) still reigns supreme atop his bejeweled Peacock Throne. But imperial hegemony over lucrative trade routes is challenged by merchants (with soldiers in tow) from France and Britain.

Political intrigue, forbidden love and a clash of cultures make for a pulpy soap opera, and director and co-writer Gurinder Chadha does not disappoint. In fact, "Beecham House" resembles "Downton Abbey" in its saga of life above and below stairs in a great manor.

Head of the eponymous household is John Beecham (Tom Bateman), a rugged man of mystery. A former officer of the British East India Company, Beecham left his post in search of enlightenment, disgusted by his unit's pillaging of the native population.

Three years later, a newly enriched Beecham (although dressed like Indiana Jones) arrives at his expansive new home. To the surprise of his retinue of servants, he brings an infant son, but no wife. The baby, moreover, is a mixed-race child, adding to the intrigue.

Beecham barely has time to unpack before his dotty mother, Henrietta (Lesley Nicol), and her young companion, Violet (Bessie Carter), arrive after a long journey from England. Nicol, best known for her role as the high-strung Mrs. Patmore on "Downton," plays another fussbudget here, offering comic relief as an exasperated fish-out-of-water.

Henrietta is determined that her son marry Violet. But Beecham only has eyes for his next-door neighbor, an English governess named Margaret (Dakota Blue Richards), who tutors the emperor's children.

Don't forget about that baby. Upsetting the mango cart even further is the arrival of Chandrika (Pallavi Sharda), an exotic lady who takes charge of the child, leaving many to wonder if she is his mother.

Meanwhile, Beecham's dissolute brother Daniel (Leo Suter) moves in. Although enlisted in the East India Company, he prefers to savor his brother's hospitality and woo the baby's nurse, Chanchal (Shriya Pilgaonkar).

As things heat up in the household, Beecham tries to make an honest living as a fair trader, respecting the rights and customs of the Indian people. Standing in his way is his shady business partner, Samuel Parker (Marc Warren), who's secretly allied with French General Castillon (Gregory Fitoussi), who despises all things British.

Judging from the first four episodes, "Beecham House" is a guilty pleasure, with minimal violence and discreet sensuality. Armchair travelers will savor this passage to India most for its magnificent scenery, sumptuous sets and glittering costumes.

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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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