BBC Radio 7, 2 August 2009
First broadcast in 1999 to mark the 350th anniversary of the execution
of King Charles I, Justice or Mercy! dramatized the Putney Debates, which took place between 28 October and 9 November
1647, in which officers of Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army, including civilian representatives, discussed England's future.
Among the issues raised were: should the army continue to negotiate a settlement with the defeated King Charles?; should there
be kings or lords in the new Britain?; should suffrage be limited to property-holders?; would constitutional changes lead
to anarchy? As dramatized by Jack Emery, the debates witnessed ordinary soldiers taking on generals to argue for greater democracy.
The proceedings helped to establish many of the demcratic freedoms enjoyed by the British people today. From the debates we learned what 'Englishness' meant at that time; the capacity to acknowledge
another person's point of view. We also learned how the debates represented a triumph of common sense over political extremism
at a time of turmoil. The message was clear - Britain could still have a monarchy, but its power had to be subject to a system
of checks and balances provided by Parliament.
In truth, Justice or Mercy! proved worthy but dull. It consisted
of a series of readings performed by a stellar cast including Derek Jacobi, Timothy West and the late Brian Glover, interspersed
with comments from a variety of authorities including Margaret Drabble. Such interventions slowed down the pace of the play
- perhaps directors Martin Jenkins and Piers Plowrtight should have omitted them and worked instead on creating a full length