BBC Radio 4, 28 February 2009
Imagine, if you will, a Marlowesque detective thriller whose leading
character speaks confidentially to listeners about his state of mind, his future course of action and his reactions to specific
situations. He seems a trustworthy person by the timbre of his voice - a kind of friendly elder brother, perhaps. As the drama
unfolds, however, we realize that this apparently stable personality is a psychopath who feels no compunction about murdering
someone and stealing his identity. Like Shakespeare's King Richard III, he revels in his ingenuity as he escapes scott-free
and commits further murders, apparently at will.
Such was Ian Hart's Tom Ridpley in this latest adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's
novel, memorably filmed with Jude Law and Matt Damon in the leading roles. On the run from his accountants, Ripley is engaged
by the wealthy Mr. Greenleaf (Malcolm Tierney) to travel across the Atlantic in search of his errant son Dicky (Stephen Hogan),
a would-be artist pursuing a bohemian existence in Europe. Ripley accomplishes his task but cannot persuade Dicky to re-establish
contact with his father. Envying Dicky's happy-go-lucky lifestyle and his expensive yet stylish outfits, Ripley kills the
artist by drowning him off the Italian coast, and subsequently pursues a remarkable double life playing both himself and Dicky
at the same time. He proves a considerable success, managing to hoodwink Greenleaf, Dicky's close female friend Marge (Barbara
Barnes) and the entire Italian police force. In truth there is something macabrely attractive about Ripley - although a compulsive
murderer, he accomplishes his task with such panache that we cannot help but admire him. This is what renders him so dangerous;
he doesn't look like a criminal at all.
Stephen Wyatt's adaptation wended its episodic way through America and Europe. To
be honest, his characterization was fairly perfunctory: Dicky came across as something of a milk-sop, vainly trying to break
free of his father's coat-tails yet realizing that he would always remain attached to them. Marge only came alive in Dicky's
company - on other occasions she seemed isolated, looking for something but not sure exactly what. However these performances
paled into insignificance beside Hart's Ripley - a plausible rogue trying (and probably succeeding) to take listeners into
Claire Grove's production was the first of five adaptations of Ripley novels. I can't
wait to hear the rest.