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Ripley's Game by Patricia Highsmith, adapted by Alan McDonald

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BBC Radio 4, 14 March 2009
 
Another trip across Europe; another series of murders and unexplained deaths. This formed the basic subject-matter of Ripley's Game, the third in Radio 4's series of dramatizations of the complete Ripley cycle of novels by Patricia Highsmith. This time our eponymous hero (Ian Hart) was embroiled in a plot to kill two mafiosi. With the help of his accomplice Reeves (Paul Rider) he engaged an English dilettante Trevanny (Tom Brooke) to do the work for him. Travanny duly despatches the two mafiosi; but both he and Ripley lay themselves open to reprisal. Highsmith's plot twists and turns in various directions: Trevanny's wife (Janice Acquah) finds out about the scheme, prompting Ripley into an unexpected show of conscience as he tries to patch up the couple's marriage. But all to no avail: Travanny decides that life is no longer worth living and allows himself to be killed by the Mafia. As ever Ripley escapes scot-free, while Mrs. Travanny inherits her husband's wealth - acquired as a result of the original contract killing.
 
Two themes emerged most tangibly from Alan McDonald's adaptation. In spite of Ripley's confidence (regularly expressed through direct asides), that he was master of each situation, this production proved precisely the reverse. All the characters become victims of circumstance. Mrs. Travanny comes to Ripley's house at the precise moment when her husband and Ripley are fighting a desperate battle against the Mafia hit-men. To ensure her silence, they have to sedate her - which only implicates her more in the whole plot. Ripley cannot control her; he cannot murder her, and he can only hope that her newly-inherited wealth will persuade her to keep silent about the whole affair, once her husband has passed away.
 
The second interesting characteristic of this adaptation was that it revealed Highsmith as basically xenophobic. For all her rootless, wandering tendencies, prompting her to live anywhere but in her country of birth, it was clear that she idealizes the American male as a bluff, no-nonsense personality trying to turn events to his own advantage. Ripley might be a psychopath, but he's also extremely attractive; by contrast English men like Travanny are lily-livered and indecisive, prone to fits of consience and self-doubt. Survival often depends on suppressing such emotions and looking instead to the future. Ripley is terribly good at this. The director of this adaptation was Steven Canny.