The Sword of Honour Trilogy by Evelyn Waugh, dramatized by Jeremy Front

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Classic Serial on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 29 September - 10 November 2013
What a difference the passage of time can make.  Compared to Barrie Campbell's Eighties adaptation of the same text, Jeremy Front's version of the Waugh classic seemed far more irreverent in terms of tone.  Less attention was paid to the story's religious and more to its satiric aspects.
Partly this was achieved through the performances.  Tim McInnerny's deadpan narration suggested that the material was somehow portentous; what he had to say would offer some profound judgment on the Second World War and the protagonists' part in it.  In many of the sequences following the narration, however, the subject-matter remained completely banal: we were left to reflect on the extent to which Guy (Paul Ready) and his circle of friends inhabited a social and emotional vacuum, completely removed from the realities of everyday life.
At the end of each scene, director Tracey Neale inserted snatches of period music.  This not only gave the production some sense of historical authenticity, but emphasized the extent to which the characters were far removed from the realities of that history.  They lived in a world of their own, based on status, wealth and the belief that they somehow had a right to exercise power over others.  The fact that none of them were suited to that role seemed to elude them.
This type of structure - McInnerny's narration, followed by a scene involving the characters, and concluding with snatches of music - invested the adaptation with a comic-book like feel, a wartime (and slightly less savage) version of Hare and Brenton's Pravda, in which characterization was considered less significant than satiric purpose.  On those terms, the adaptation worked very well; I have to admit that it was more entertaining than the Eighties version, which sometimes became dramatically ponderous.
On the other hand, Neale's production lacked passion; one could not identify with any of the characters.  But perhaps this was what she intended: having listened to John Freeman's Face to Face interview with Evelyn Waugh (1960), re-broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra, I got the sense that Waugh wasn't very interested in identifying with his characters.  He was happier remaining detached from them: in his view the process of literary (re-)creation was something completely different from the rhythms of everyday life.  Neale's production admirably communicated this notion.