The Cazalets: Confusion by Elizabeth Jane Howard, dramatized by Sarah Daniels

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15-Minute Drama on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 22 April - 3 May 2013
The third in the series of four Cazalet novels is set between 1942 and 1945 and focuses on different generations of the family and how they survive the experience of war.  Elizabeth Jane Howard once remarked that she wrote it to show "what domestic life was like for people at home" - especially the women forced to wait while their spouses went on active service.
Sally Avens' and Marian Nancarrow's 15-Minute Drama production used the ten episodes to focus on different branches of the family.  Of the episodes broadcast so far, the first looked at Polly's (Flora Spencer-Longhurst's) attempts to come to terms with the death of her mother; episode two looked at Louise's (Alix Wilton Regan's) engagement to the painter Michael Hadleigh (Harry Hadden-Paton), and subsequent marriage and/or pregnancy.  The third episode continued Michael and Louise's story; while the fourth, set in New Year 1942-3, looked at Sid's (Helen Schlesinger's) attempts to come to terms with her isolation, and Edward's (Pip Torrens') complicated relationship with Diana (Lisa Dillon).
Throughout each episode the production focused on a series of common themes.  While the male characters professed their undying love for their female partners, we often doubted the truth of what they said: would Edward continue to stay with Diana, even though he was married to someone else?  He insisted to Hugh (Dominic Mafham) that he was going to give her up, but lacked sufficient mental strength to do so.  In the fourth episode it seemed that he was reluctantly enduring life with his second family, while perpetually looking for an excuse to get out.  Likewise Michael: although he claimed to be happily married to Louise, it seemed that he was far more interested in going on bombing-raids - paying little or no attention to her feelings.
Faced with such difficulties from their partners, the female characters often endured mental agonies.  What they said in public was seldom what they actually felt.  Penelope Wilton's narrator perpetually stressed this point, as she explained their true feelings, while sympathizing with their difficulties in trying to cope with wartime exigencies.  The 1940s was a time when people simply didn't talk about themselves much in public; it was far more important to maintain a fašade of stoicism and endurance (remember Brief Encounter?)  However this expectation often proved difficult for people to meet, especially those faced with the trauma of losing a loved one in battle.
The Cazalets is first and foremost a family saga, drawing us into the world of a group of different people from different generations, and inviting us to find out more about what happens to them.  This kind of drama has proved both artistically and financially successful for many years now (I vividly remember the original Upstairs Downstairs from my adolescence).  On the other hand Avens' and Nancarrow's production emphasized the quality of Howard's writing, as she examines in detail the psychology of her characters in mentally extreme situations.