In showing how Siam fended off colonialism, the TV series gave viewers a crash course in history
Many fans of “Love Destiny”, the hit TV series whose first season has just ended,
followed it religiously because of the heartthrob actors and actresses. But its content – providing glimpses of how Siamese leaders dealt cleverly with early colonial threats – should not be overlooked as a key factor in making the show a massive hit. A lot of viewers would have grown up admiring the political principles of the West, but “Love Destiny” offered a window onto a lesser-known side of international politics.
The series’ plot was unusual, if not entirely unique. The heroine somehow travels back in time to occupy the body of a much-maligned woman whom the male lead abhors at the outset. TV drama cliches conspire to ensure the two gradually fall in love, but they are meanwhile heavily involved in actual historical events involving Western diplomats with dark agendas. Crucial facts in Thai history are illustrated and viewers are given a fascinating crash course in what happened when the colonial powers came knocking.
It was no great surprise that the series was criticised as nationalistic and even xenophobic, but it has to be remembered that the series touched on the essential fact that Thailand is alone among Southeast Asian nations as having never been colonised. This is something that younger Thais might not have fully appreciated – until they saw it played out dramatically on the small screen.
The finale of “Love Destiny” also attached much importance to the fate of a Western diplomat who was empathetic towards Siam but nevertheless pursued a damaging agenda. His last scenes cast a shadow over the classic happy ending of the hero and heroine beginning a loving relationship. Viewers were left wondering not only about their romance, but also about what might have happened if Siam’s ruling class had taken a different diplomatic course.
“Call them cunning, chameleon-like or whatever,” one commentator wrote on the community chat site Pantip.com, “but without their genius and flexibility, Thailand could have become one of the countless colonies of the West.” The same person rightly noted that leaders of less developed countries in colonial times faced dire threats, but the Siamese cleverly
set the competing superpowers
against each other, effectively creating a shield around the Kingdom.
Another fan wondered how nations that cherish human rights and other noble virtues today could have been so evil in the past. The series depicted, for example, foreign missionaries trying to lure the Siamese away from Buddhism. The plot at times risked becoming very serious indeed, but was promptly lightened by its elements of romance and comedy.
Given Thailand’s current predicament, with a military-led government keeping warring politicians apart, it’s fair to ask whether “Love Destiny” was a deliberate attempt to drum up nationalism. The suspicion, though, fails to consider the series’ phenomenal ratings, which no political power could have engineered. This was a relatively low-budget programme, too, yet it drew an audience far vaster than that of another period drama airing about the same time, which was well financed and heavily advertised.
“Love Destiny” owed its success to a smart screenplay based on an exceptional novel, fine acting, and a generous sprinkling of wit. The way history was woven into the tale, however, was the magic charm that kept viewers spellbound.