BBC Radio 4, 18 May 2013
Scott Fitzgerald's great novel tells a tale familiar from great
Fifties movies such as Sunset Boulevard (1950), and The Big Knife (1955) about the seamy side of Hollywood,
in which surfaces matter, insincerity reigns and qualities such as love, loyalty and passion come in short supply.
Nonetheless Bill Bryden's production
presented the material in a haunting way - by beginning the story with a radio announcement, ostensibly from the Thirties,
for a programme on "Great Americans." The subject of this particular profile is Monroe Stahr (Aiden Gillen) - movie
mogul, star-maker and emotional wreck. Presiding over one of Hollywod's major dream-factories, he works eighteen-hour
days comprised of an endless whirl of talent meetings, script conferences, preening his stars' emotional feathers and placating
the business people in charge of his studio.
The frame story set the tone for the ensuing action, that contrasted Stahr's professional
life with his chaotic personal life; it seems that he cannot find the right woman, even though he falls passionately in love
with Kathleen (Charlotte Emmerson). The problem is entirely Stahl's; having spent his entire life cocooned in a Hollywood
studio, he has a pathological inability to separate dream-worlds from truth. Fitzgerald's story assumes a political
angle when Stahl meets Bremmer (Jack Shepherd), a colleague who explains - in patient detail - how Hollywood consciously
ostracizes those with any left-wing political beliefs. Goaded into action, Stahl insists that it's much more important
to maintain a dream-world (chiefly because of box-office concerns) rather than descending into the grimy world of Politics.
Eventually there are those who
suffer in this world - especially the screenwriters, who are told what to write and how to write it, while suppressing any
creative talents of their own. This aspect of the story has been inspired by Fitzgerald's own bitter experiences of
working in Hollywood; at one point Bryden's production makes a deliberately self-conscious reference to Fitzgerald himself.
In the end Stahl meets a violent
end; his demise is marked with a spontaneous outpouring of tributes from his so-called colleagues, especially Brady (Michael
Feast), who celebrates Stahl's "achievements," even though the two of them were deadly enemies. But this is the dream-factory
where surfaces matter, and the studio bosses worked long and hard to hide anything unsavoury from the public gaze.
The production ended as it had begin, with another radio broadcast marking Stahl's passing; in its way, it was equally as
insincere as the broadcast at the beginning.