The Borrowers by Mary Norton, adapted by Sarah Woods

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BBC Radio 4, 22-23 December 2008
This classic children's novel has been adapted several times for different media. Peter Hewitt's 1997 film combined live action and animation, but reduced Norton's tale into a Who Framed Roger Rabbit-type story, with the emphasis on slapstick rather than characterization.
Sarah Woods' adaptation went back to the original book, and by doing so underlined its significance as a product of its times (the early 1950s). The family of borrowers - Pod (Jeff Rawle), Homily (Paula Wilcox) and Arrietty (Clare Corbett) - offered a good example of a nuclear family, whose gender roles were clearly identified. Pod was the breadwinner going out every day to 'borrow' (i.e. appropriate) items to feather the family nest. Homily remained content in the home, providing meals where necessary and keeping the place tidy. Arrietty, their fourteen-year-old daughter, was expected to participate in the life of the home, but preferred to follow Pod's example and forage for food. She sought an active rather than a passive existence.
In Woods' adaptation, The Borrowers was transformed into a picaresque tale in which the family experienced a series of major upheavals - being evicted from their home, driven out of the Driver's house and forced to fend for themselves in an inhospitable world outside, before they found temporary security in their relatives' house. Such experiences put the family's stability to the test: Pod desperately tried to create new homes in uncomfortable surroundings (an old shoe, for instance), despite the perpetual risk of being eaten alive by predators. Homily created what order she could out of very little, while pleading with her husband and daughter to stay at home and drink tea rather than venture outside. Arrietty struck up friendships with a little boy (Sam Rawle) who helped them escape from the rat-catcher in the Driver household, and later on discovered another borrower Spiller (Mostyn James) who led the family to safety. Despite everything, however, Pod's family stayed together, and thereby emphasized the importance of the nuclear family as the foundation of society.
This production also approached The Borrowers as a tale of exile and displacement. Although the family were interlopers in the Driver houseold, they were harmless creatures who did not deserve the treatment meted out to them. Once evicted, they were forced to pursue a rootless existence, trying to find shelter but perpetually threatened with extinction. No one seemed to care whether they lived or died. Director Chris Wallis took care to stress that they were the last of a dying breed; most of their brethren had either been killed off or died long ago. Although the family discovered some of their relatives, and therefore had the chance to reconstruct their lives, this was no guarantee that they would be protected from attack in the future. Like all oppressed peoples, they were threatened by the colonialist aggressor.
Everyone involved in this production - Woods, Wallis plus the excellent cast - deserves to be congratulated for creating a charming adaptation that did not shy away from the book's underlying social and political themes.