You know those episodes of a soap opera or sitcom, where the characters who reside in their usual, expected place go on holiday? That’s sort of what Beecham House is – Downton Abbey but in 1795 Delhi. Set before British rule, we follow the lives of the Beecham family in their newly-bought house. The family is headed by John Beecham (Tom Bateman), a former soldier with the East India Company who is “determined to make the house his safe haven”. And that means doing all he can to save India from the threats of the British.
The result is a six part TV series that leans heavily and uncomfortably on the white saviour narrative. John Beecham is a man who self-sacrifices, is good to his Indian employees, has endless amounts of empathy, is dependable, noble, kind and, first and foremost, a man of duty and honour. Bateman does a good enough job in the role, even if it’s not entirely all that memorable. He simply joins the list of countless other generic ITV period drama leads – he’s neither good nor bad in the role. He’s fine.
A bit like the series overall. ITV gave it the Sunday 9pm slot which suits the show and sums it up perfectly, it’s easy watching escapism set in an exotic place. The storytelling is safe and requires little effort to watch, more tell not show, utilising all manner of familiar tropes to get the job done. There’s a wildcard younger sibling, a mother from whom John has long been distant to for reasons that are swiftly apparent, there’s multiple pretty young thing’s mooning after him and there’s just the right amount of peril. That comes in the form of his recently reunited with best friend, who is played by Marc Warren. Anyone who has seen Warren in anything else knows instantly he will play a character up to no good. When this no-good-ness is then revealed, the tension and surprise has been vastly undermined as a result.
The worst thing about the show is how fully it is centred on John’s character, everyone else is there to serve him (literally as well as figuratively). This is especially problematic when it comes to the characterisation of the locals, they feature briefly and remain loosely sketched out archetypes. They epitomise the show, ambitious but cliched, underdeveloped and totally unconvincing.
Beecham House is available on DVD from 22 July. Available digitally to download and keep from 20 August.