ITV drama ‘The Singapore Grip’ criticised for “harmful (non)representation” ahead of premiere

The adaptation of the 1978 novel by J.G. Farrell is about to premiere in the UK

The upcoming ITV drama The Singapore Grip, a period series based on the 1978 novel by J.G. Farrell, is drawing flak before its premiere in the UK.

The drama series is screenwriter Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of the British novelist’s 1978 satire. It premieres in the UK on ITV on September 13, and has already been broadcast in Australia on Foxtel.

Set during World War II, The Singapore Grip centres on a British family living in Singapore during the Japanese Occupation. It stars Luke Treadaway, David Morrissey, Charles Dance, Elizabeth Tan and Jane Horrocks. Watch the series’ first trailer below.

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The trailer, released on September 3, drew intense responses on social media.

Reactions ranged from disapproval – a tweet by Marvel actor Simu Liu simply expressing “No… just…no.” – to excitement, with screenwriter Alex von Tunzelmann praising the novel’s “sophisticated, merciless and stinging” satire and hoping the television adaptation “does it justice”.

British East and Southeast Asian non-profit media advocacy group BEATS issued a statement decrying the show’s “harmful (non)representation”, calling ITV’s decision to “casually engage” with it “deeply upsetting”, as Variety reported.

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“In a landscape where our creative industries are decimated, the Black Lives Matter movement has placed this country’s problematic view of its own colonial legacy firmly under the microscope,” BEATS said. “More than 5000 UK creatives signed an open letter calling for UK TV industry gatekeepers to come to the table on diversity and inclusion issues.”

“In this context, 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 U.K.’s East and Southeast Asian community. This is especially concerning at a time when anti-East and Southeast Asian hate crime has dramatically increased during the coronavirus pandemic.”

In its statement, BEATS acknowledged that “Farrell’s novel has its place in history”, but deemed its satire “fatally undermined by its 1970s race and gender mores”. The organisation also argued the show favours “jauntily forced, comedic indulgence, presenting this traumatic period of Singapore’s history as little more than breezy and inconsequential”.

BEATS also lamented the lack of prominent or well-developed Asian characters, save for Elizabeth Tan’s Vera Chiang. Her presence, they say, is undermined by framing rife with stereotypical cliches.

“In the first episode, her every appearance is announced by keening erhu music while, despite her supposed refugee status, she models impeccable cheongsams and enigmatic smiles,” they explain. Read the organisation’s full statement here.

The Singapore Grip actor David Morrissey, who plays rubber merchant Walter Blackett, recently gave an interview to Digital Spy about the film in which he said Britain needs to “be honest” about “ourselves and our history”.

“These people, for me, are the embodiment of entitlement. They are racist, they are a bit monstrous, they’re sexist,” he said.

“I think as a nation we need to look at ourselves and our history and own all of it and be honest about it, and that means more than just bringing down statues,” he continued.

“It means looking at our world in a very no-holds-barred, warts and all way, and actually going yes, we did that, and what are we going to do about it?”

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