Following a commentator on the serial, McLuskie describes "The Jewel in the Crown" as the least nostalgic and most troubled of the cycle of productions in the early '80's that looked back to the glories of the British Raj. The trouble, writes McLuskie, "may have less to do with the serial's overt politics and more to do with its form and style." This is an interesting statement, but it is also potentially a misleading one, for it implies that style is separable from its political content.
The serial's use of voiceovers, flashbacks and newsreel inserts does unsettle the narrative arc, much as Paul Scott's novels are supposedly freighted with the use of multiple perspectives and collage-like narratives. My instinct, however, is to relate these modernist techniques to the serial's political content, specifically, the outsider figure of the homosexual, a trope that McLuskie makes no mention at all. A surprising neglect since the tortured figure at the heart of the serial, the only character who spans all fourteen episodes, is that of the villain and closeted homosexual Ronald Merrick.
Merrick, played by Tim Piggott-Smith, is marked as an outsider not only by his sexuality, but also by his working class background and non-public school education. Like many outsiders, he both despises upper class privileges and yearns for them. As a police inspector and later a military intelligence officer, he performs the Empire's dirty work effectively because his belief in white supremacy has none of the troubled ambiguity that upperclassmen like Guy Perron (played by Charles Dance) and Sarah Layton (Susan Wooldridge) allow themselves to feel. To the extent the serial unsettles the narrative arc, it calls into question, exposes the underbelly of, the complacent story that Empire tells itself.
If to pay attention to the serial's conscious design is to give credit to its political intentions, it is nonetheless important to see what makes this political message palatable to the eight million viewers who followed the weekly serial when it was first broadcast. To the more progressive section of the audience, the message bore the familiar cast of a well-known moral: power corrupts.
To both this segment of viewers, and the more general audience, it was also reassuring to see evil--focused in the person of the homosexual--punished. Merrick is not merely killed by Indian nationalists, he is cut up gruesomely in his bedroom. His Sapphic counterpart, Barbie Batchelor (played by Peggy Ashcroft), an elderly missionary and so also a social outsider, dies alone in a mental asylum. On the other hand, Guy Perron and Sarah Layton, the far greater beneficiaries of Empire, their heterosexuality established by their simmering romance, emerge from the throes of Indian independence not only unscathed, but with their virtue intact.