Une Vie by Guy de Maupassant, adapted by Adrian Penketh

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BBC Radio 4, 29 October - 2 November 2012, BBC Radio 4 Extra 3 November 2012

Some characters seem fated to experience trouble throughout their lives, despite the best of intentions.  This is what befalls Jeanne de Lamare (Aimee-Ffion Edwards), a convent-educated aristocrat with dreams of leading an idealized existence full of romance.  Naively trusting in her father's (Robert Blythe's) judgment, she marries Julien (Adam Nagatis), an apparently eligible young man who turns out to be a bully.  She brings her servant Rosalie (Lizzy Watts) with her, and Rosalie ends up having an affair with Julien.  Seeking solace from the church, she ends up being ostracized by Abbe Picot (Patrick Brennan) for allowing infidelities to take place under her roof.  Her humiliation is completed when she discovers that her father's past life has not been quite as pure as he claims.

Given all the difficulties she has to negotiate, we might have expected Jeanne to have suffered some form of mental breakdown.  Jessica Dromgoole's production created a fundamentally brutal world in which women were expected to play a secondary role, fulfilling every duty imposed on them by their male counterparts, whether domestic or sexual.  The fact that Jeanne emerged comparatively unscathed from her ordeal was due to her strength of character; in Edwards' performance she came across as someone who gradually learned how to cope with everything that befell her.

In truth, Une Vie had all the ingredients of a high-class soap opera: marriage, infidelity, violence, unexpected revelations. However I have to admit that it was highly entertaining, due in no small part to the cast's hard-working efforts.