Luke Treadaway, one of the central actors in the new ITV period drama The Singapore Grip, has responded to criticism of the show after an advocacy group branded it “harmful” and “upsetting”.
The series follows a wealthy British family living in Singapore at the time of the Second World War and is based on a satirical novel by JG Farrell first published in 1978.
An advocacy group for British East and South East Asian people working in theatre and screen, also known as BEATS, spoke out against the show’s depiction of Asian characters and history.
BEATS released a statement, which read: “An expensively mounted TV adaptation of J.G. Farrell’s satirical novel, with colonial Singapore as its exotic backdrop, is a kick in the teeth to the UK’s East and South East Asian community.”
The group went on to assert that the show presents a “traumatic period of Singapore’s history as little more than breezy and inconsequential”, with a focus on wealthy white characters.
It added that the “main dramatic function” of The Singapore Grip’s only Asian main character, Chinese refugee Vera Chiang, is to “cast a ‘spell’ over the story’s white male conscience”.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast this morning, star Luke Treadaway defended the programme to hosts Charlie Stayt and Naga Munchetty.
“I really hope that people watch it first and then see,” he said. “The book is well known as being one of the greatest takedowns of colonialism and the Empire that exists and it’s certainly not holding up in any reverence the people who were continuing to exploit workers out there.
“We’re showing those characters for what they were, monsters and racists, and we’re not trying to sugarcoat anything. It’s a very prevalent time to have something which reexamines our history with the Empire and says, ‘Look at these terrible people that were out there.’ It’s certainly not holding holding them up as any sort of heroes.”
ITV has also supported a statement released by screenwriter Sir Christopher Hampton, who adapted the novel for television, defending the show as a condemnation of colonialism.
The statement, which ITV shared with RadioTimes.com, said: “Any fair-minded viewer will easily understand that The Singapore Grip is an attack on colonialism – and is indeed based on the last of a trio of books known as the ‘Empire Trilogy’ which constitute perhaps the most celebrated attack on colonialism by a British novelist in the 20th century.
“Its very subject is possibly the greatest catastrophe to befall the British Empire during its decline, a disaster the colonists were themselves squarely responsible for.
“The most sympathetic and resourceful of the central characters is a Chinese woman, a member of the Resistance against the Japanese, who is able to educate our hero and open his eyes to what he is already becoming aware of, namely the corrupt practices and casual racism of the ruling British elite.”
The Singapore Grip premieres on ITV at 9pm on Sunday 13th September. If you’re looking for something to watch tonight, check out our TV Guide.