Recently on TV: India, Europe, China

My cousin Ray recently posted on Facebook:

These days I tend to only watch free to air television when I am in a motel. Last night I watched a strange reality show on the ABC in which ageing English minor celebrities were investigating the possibility of a cheap retirement in India. (I must admit, having seen the Indian health system, it’s not a place I would choose to spend my twilight years.) I was a little bewildered by the fact that the participants were horrified at the social system and low wages that made their inexpensive retirement plan possible. When are people in the western world going to realise that everything has a cost? If you get something cheap, somewhere along the way someone else has paid the cost.

He is referring to The Real Marigold Hotel, now on ABC1 on Tuesday nights. Pre-publicity:

BBC Two is bringing golden-oldie flick The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel to life for a new documentary series – and some of the names involved may surprise you.

Miriam Margolyes, dancer Wayne Sleep, Doctor Who star Sylvester McCoy and ex-Catchphrase host Roy Walker will travel to India together in The Real Marigold Hotel – a factual series inspired by the 2012 movie.

Chef Rosemary Shrager, darts champion Bobby George, singer Patti Boulaye and retired news reader Jan Leeming will also take the trip of a lifetime.


I can see what Ray is getting at, but  the premise of the series comes from the original movie; what we now see is a “what if?” which celebrates as well as interrogates what the participants experience. It is interesting that our blogging friend Ramana in Pune rather enjoyed The Second Best Marigold Hotel and its predecessor. I wonder if he has been able to see The Real Marigold Hotel.

They’re not entirely “minor” either. Wayne Sleep, for example, has been a Principal Dancer with the Royal Ballet. I have gleaned much about India through these “fish out of water”. But to me (almost as old as Miriam Margolyes) the crux of the program is a meditation an ageing and how we experience it. I have found the program informative, amusing, and quite often moving. What more can you want? Mind you, this reviewer was not quite as enthusiastic, but his review is just of Episode 1. What we saw on ABC last night (Episode 2) was much more than he found there.

…the show was much more about the personalities than the place. When she wasn’t adorning her hair with elaborate scrunchies, former newsreader Jan Leeming declared she wouldn’t eat lamb, fish or beef – leaving her haveli housemates with nothing more than chicken to chew over. Hearty chef Rosemary Shrager couldn’t help bossing the boys around in the kitchen, while ballet dancer Wayne Sleep didn’t want any sympathy about his recent prostate cancer operation.

Miriam Margolyes hoped she would come “face to face with herself” in India, as EM Forster once wrote about visiting the country. But the actress already seemed well-attuned to her inner needs. When she wasn’t farting and “wee wee-ing” her way across Jaipur (trouser-less where possible), she looked and behaved like a character from a Dolmio advert, keen to play the parody version of herself at any opportunity. The camera loved her, and – I have to admit – so did I.

If you’ve been to India or watched other documentaries about the country, it’s unlikely you will learn anything new from The Real Marigold Hotel. But, like the film, it is a charming, heart-warming and at times laugh-out-loud watch.

On SBS at 7.30 on Tuesdays is Michael Portillo’s Great Continental Railway Journeys. We are now seeing repeats, bur this show really has grown on me. I don’t mind at all seeing it again.


Tonight on SBS is The Story of China. This is what we can look forward to:

“Revolution” Michael Wood observes “has been almost a natural fact of life in Chinese history”. Between 1850 and 1950 three cataclysmic revolutions shook China to the core, but out of them, today’s China emerged. The film begins in Canton, today’s Guangzhou, with the meeting of a US missionary and a Chinese student called Hong. Inspired by the Christian story and driven by visions and prophecies, Hong came to believe he was God’s Chinese son and he unleashed the bloodiest war of the 19th century, the Taiping Rebellion, in which 20 million died…

The Boxers were crushed by the western powers, which extorted a huge indemnity, $60 billion in today’s money. China was on the brink. Michael takes us to Shaoxing to tell the story of the feminist poet and revolutionary Qiu Jin, executed before the failed uprising of 1907. Finally in 1911 the Empire ended and China became a Republic, but in its brief life it knew no peace. China sent 140,000 labourers to the Western Front, only to be humiliated at the Treaty of Versailles when the German colonies in China were handed to Japan.

In China popular rage triggered the May 4th ‘New Culture’ movement whose leaders included China’s greatest modern writer Lu Xun from Shaoxing. But between the two World Wars the disparity between rich and poor, city and countryside only increased.

We visit Hong Kong’s Peninsular Hotel in the Jazz Age, then follow the revolutionary Mao Zedong on the Long March to Yan’an. World War II came to China two years earlier than it did in the West with the Japanese invasion and in Nanjing, Michael meets a survivor of the Japanese massacre of 1937. The tale of the communist era includes a visit to a surviving Maoist commune, before Mao’s death, and the boom time of the last three decades. Finally, after an epic sweep of 4000 years, the series ends back with the Qin family of Wuxi, with the warmth and jollity of the Chinese New Year, and then at the Altar of Heaven in Beijing, a last haunting glimpse of the old China.

Last episode! This is a MUST see!

My earlier post: China-related: Jiawei Shen, Michael Wood, Du Fu.


3 thoughts on “Recently on TV: India, Europe, China

  1. No, unfortunately, I have not been able to see the third in the trilogy. I will eventually catch up via DVD. I also think that without taking away the merit of the comic storyline, your cousin Ray really has a point. I can assure you and him that the kind of things that can happen on the screen should remain there only as the reality will be far different.

  2. Incidentally the third is not really a part of the trilogy. “Despite the success of the first and second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel films, director John Madden has confirmed there will be no third instalment in the series, it has been reported.”

    • Thanks for responding to this post, Ramana. Yes,The Real Marigold Hotel is a documentary from BBC exploring what it might be like if the scenario of the movies played out in reality.

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