BBC Radio 4, 25 December 2012
One could spend time analyzing the differences between this radio adaptation
and the fondly-remembered television versions. Joseph Horowitz's memorable theme has been replaced by a chamber version
of Gershwin's "They Can't Take That Away from Me." The ensemble cast of actors (Julian Curry, Patricia Hodge, Peggy
Thorpe-Bates (later Marion Mathie)) has been largely dispensed with: all that remains is Erskine-Brown (played by Nigel Anthony).
Perhaps most interestingly, this version has an old and a young Rumpole, played by Timothy West and Benedict Cumberbatch respectively.
Old Rumpole looks back on some of his most celebrated cases: all of which are re-enacted by the younger Rumpole.
Yet perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Marilyn Imrie's production was not to compare
it with older versions, but to consider in more detail Cumberbatch's vocal characterization of Rumpole. Unlike Leo McKern,
Maurice Denham - who were both blessed with rich, fruity and memorable voices - Cumberbatch doesn't let vocal
mannerisms do the work for him (in delivering catch-phrases such as "she who must be obeyed.") Rather he works hard
to create a new construction of Rumpole - a hard-working, dedicated barrister, whose commitment to his cases often prevents
him from looking after his son Nick (Louis Tafler-Hyde). He is an intelligent man, who begins to smell a rat when he
wins a case on behalf of his client Dr. Ned Dacre (Daniel Weyman). Although he discovers the truth behind what happened,
he is enough of a realist to understand that it is not particularly important; breathing a resigned sigh, he returns to chambers
to sup a glass or two of plonk before picking up his next brief.
Set in 1964, this production portrays Rumpole as a man in the prime of his career
- not the ageing hack of the television versions - who knows how to win cases, while keeping the judges happy.
As the older Rumpole, Timothy West reflects on his past with pleasure; it's fun for him to look back, even if he
wasn't always one hundred per cent successful.