National Velvet by Enid Bagnold, dramatized by Peter Flannery

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Afternoon Drama on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 25-26 December 2013
Sometimes it's wise to rid oneself of prior memories and approach a familiar text afresh.  This is certainly the case with National Velvet, which in Melanie Harris' charming production managed to avoid any references to or evocations of the famous Elizabeth Taylor film.
It could be seen instead as a rite-of-passage narrative in which Velvet (Sophie Rundle), a fourteen-year-old with a passion for horses, who manages to win the Grand National at Aintree.  She is not interested in material concerns, but rather identifies passionately with her piebald horse.  She understands how success in the saddle depends primarily on sustaining that relationship - something that amateurs like herself can do just as well as her professional counterparts.
Harris' production brought out the novel's social elements; how Velvet and her parents (Jonathan Keeble, Alison Steadman) uphold certain timeless values such as loyalty and concern, despite their modest circumstances (Mr. Brown is a butcher).  Mrs. Brown has a secret that she does not make much of - as a teenager she successfully swam the English Channel, and since then she has encouraged her children to pursue their dreams.  The fact that Velvet wins the National is as much due to her mother's support as to the girl's proficiency in the saddle.
Narrated by the elderly Donald (John Sessions), the youngest member of the Brown family looking back on events that happened several decades previously, National Velvet was certainly a wish-fulfilling fairy tale.  Nonetheless it also managed to suggest the importance of mutual support as a way of coping with life, whether in bad or good times.  A thoroughly entertaining piece for the Christmas season.