BBC Radio 7, 8-12 June 2009
Memorably filmed by Merchant-Ivory in the 1980s with Daniel Day-Lewis
and Helena Bonham Carter, Glyn Dearman's production of A Room with a View focused on the mental anguish of Lucy Huneychurch
(Cathy Sara) as she selected a suitable marriage patrner. The action shifted from the British countryside, to the sun-drenched
Italian landscapes, then back to Britain once again, as Lucy encountered several suitors while trying to make sense of the
advice freely (and unnecessarily) offered by her mother (Julia McKenzie), as well as other elderly eccentrics such as Mr.
Beebe (Stephen Moore), and Mr. Emerson, the father of one of her suitors (John Moffatt).
The action unfolded in a manner very reminiscent of Jane Austen: the protagonists
had little to do other than visit each other, while endlessly reflecting on one another's foibles and the subject of marriage.
Social occasions such as a tea party or an evening meal became verbal battlegrounds, where the characters indulged in various
forms of one-upmanship to secure control over their so-called friends. Unlike Austen, however, these characters only
played at being genteel - underneath there lurked a ruthless spirit which loathed any semblance of defeat. This was evident,
for example, in the relationship between Lucy and her mother. Superficially Mrs. Honeychurch seemed concerned for her
daughter's well-being, but when she found out that Lucy had elected to marry Cecil Vyse (Nathaniel Parker), Mrs. Honeychurch
responded with a stinging verbal assault. At this point we seemed to be in Noel Coward territory rather than Jane Austen:
beneath the surface politeness there lurked a desire for mastery, concealed in witty language. Although Lucy has apparent
freedom to choose her own husband, she was put under such pressure by her mother that it was not surprising she chose to remain
single and return to Italy a spinster, accompanied by her female companions (the Adamses).
But neither Forster nor Dearman allowed her that freedom. In an important exchange
towards the end of Part Four, Mr. Emerson first accused Lucy of being in a muddle, and then ignored her rejoinder altogether
("how like a man to suppose that a woman is always thinking about a man!") Instead he offered advice about the importance
of being true to oneself and to others: Lucy loved his son George (Gary Cady) and had done so ever since their first encounter.
Thus it was her responsibility to marry him; she duly obliged, and the adaptation rattled along to its expected happy ending.
Yet the question remained as to whose 'truth' Lucy acknowledged; is it her own truth, or that expected by the two men determining
her future course of action? (Emerson and his son). Dearman handled the scene in such as a way as to make it seem that Lucy
had given in to patriarchal authority.
Partly this was due to the casting: Dearman's cast was thronged with the voices of
well-known character actors including McKenzie, Moffatt and Sheila Hancock as Charlotte. Their voices were (and still are)
so well-known to listeners that they have acquired an authority of their own. When we hear them lecturing a young woman on
the importance of truth, we accept what they say; this renders them simultaneously reliable yet incredibly dangerous, especially
when they play characters of questionable morality. In Dearman's Room with a View we were invited to empathize with
Moffatt's Emerson, even if he was a representative of the patriarchy.
In many ways Dearman's production was a classic Radio 4 product, with the story told
in a straightforward manner as a series of two or three-character dialogues alternating with occasional group scenes. Nonetheless
we have to see it as a fundamentally conservative response to a period in British history during the Twenties when the country
was experiencing profound social change. Its politics recall the Edwardian era, when upper middle class women had no right
to vote, and looked forward mostly to lives of comfortable domesticity as wives and mothers.