013 Adaptation – Old
I found this four-hour adaptation of Hugh Walpole’s novel Rogue Herries intoxicating. I had never heard of this book before—I had barely heard of Hugh Walpole, only really that he was May Sinclair’s friend—and enjoyed its fragrances of Horace Walpole, the Brontës, and Clemence Dane. What I wish I’d known going in was that this novel was one of four in a dynastic series, because by the time we’d gotten to part two I was expecting the story to have switched over to Francis’ son David. This was in part engendered by the adaptation strategy of having David (and then his sister Deborah) do most of the narration. Which I’m not sure was an entirely successful strategy. In any case, in the early 18th century, Francis Harries (Gavin Muir) takes his wife Margaret and their children to his remote homeland in savage Cumbria. Mostly it’s a novel about people’s characters, their perversity and their capacity for change. And indeed, on that front it is quite remarkable. Francis changes from a proud, emotionally stunted husband who emotionally mistreats his wife to a man who understands the true meaning of love after years pining after the much younger, emotionally damaged Mirabell Starr. The cast all played their parts with great heart, so that the listener is very much invested in the world of Herries. Overall, a cracking success. Originally from 1997, it featured gorgeous music. It was directed by David Blount and adapted by Eric Pringle. The cast featured Mark Bonnard, Jane Whittenshaw, Stephen Thorne, Deborah Berlin, Christopher Scott, Keith Drinkel, Becky Hindley, Hugh Dixon, Carolyn Jones, Ioan Meredith, Chris Pavlo, Alison Pettit, Gerard McDermott, Linda Poland, Katie Clarke, Joseph Head, and George Maguire.
As a huge fan of Patrick O’Brian’s novels, I was delighted to hear Desolation Island and even more delighted to pronounce the adaptation a huge success. As I said in previous reviews, I thought Dr Stephen Maturin as played by Nigel Anthony (with a strong Irish accent, in the first BBC adaptation of the novel) AND by Richard Dillane (in the second, and this, the third) both had their virtues (both of these gentlemen are extremely accomplished radio actors). Nevertheless, if forced to choose, I think I would choose Dillane. I’d forgotten how arch Stephen is in this book, which Dillane carried off well, and the pathos was very, very muted. Naturally, David Robb is the perfect Captain Jack Aubrey. The story concerns the suspected spy Mrs Wogan (Teresa Gallagher), who manages to charm both Stephen and Jack (they always go for the same type!) before being allowed to run off with her beau after having very subtly provided some crucial strategic information. The pacing was excellent, and I was surprised at how well the action sequences worked. I admired Roger Danes’ skill in bringing in all the exposition of Stephen’s spying without overloading the narrative. They even found time for Stephen and Jack to play some Mozart on Christmas Day. The cast also included Sam Dale, John Pavlo, Samuel Barnett, Lloyd Thomas, Gerard McDermott, and Michael Bertenshaw. It was directed by Bruce Young in 2013.
The late Claire Grove directed a fantastic adaptation of Peter Ackroyd’s The House of Doctor Dee. Almost a decade before becoming the character we know and love from Life on Mars, Philip Glenister was absolutely sublime as the mysterious Matthew Palmer, who finds upon his father’s death that he has inherited a bizarre Tudor house in Clerkenwell. After some digging, he finds out that the house belonged originally to Dr Dee, played in great understated style by Nigel Anthony. As with everything Peter Ackroyd, time travel and mysterious, dark things are a matter of course. Tracy-Ann Oberman was also excellent as Dee’s younger, rather charming wife, and Stephen Thorne and Carolyn Jones were very good as Matthew’s parents. What was really first-rate, though, about this adaptation were the sound leitmotifs. The house is “haunted” by something which is sonified into a weirdly snarling creature combined with a heart monitor flatline, reproduced from the first scene in which Matthew’ father dies. The musique concrète-type music for some of the mystical scenes is haunting and arresting. Originally from 1997, it was adapted by Alan Drury and also starred the fantastic Anthony Ofoegbu, Gerard McDermott, David Bannerman, Alison Pettit, and James Bell.