The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, adapted by Jonathan Myerson

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The Prince on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 23 March 2014

In this ingenious take on Machiavelli's classic had the book's author (Damian Lewis) in the cerberine dock, appealing against a sentence of eternal damnation.  Defended by Lucretzia Borgia (Helen McCrory), he argued that what he wrote in The Prince was not fundamentally evil, but a clear-eyed analysis of the realities of political behaviour.  To an extent he was absolutely right in his viewpoints: through the ingenious use of clips from various politicians, including Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton and Nick Clegg, director Clive Brill showed how Machiavelli's viewpoints were now considered mandatory for survival.  It wasn't a matter of being "good" or "evil": lying was perfectly justified, so long as one could maintain public support.

Arraigned against Machiavelli in this court were a variety of miscreants, including Richard Nixon (Christian Rodska), who was particularly critical, even though he had not set much of an example while in power.  His main fault, in Machiavellian terms, was to be found out.  Other witnesses called included Kerensky, the leader of the caretaker government immediately after the Russian Revolution (Theo Fraser Steele), and Bertrand Russell (also played by Steele).

As the action unfolded, so it seemed that Machiavelli's appeal would be successful.  However, in a final plot-twist, we discovered that his hopes would be dashed; as the Judge (Nigel Cooke) observed, this was a hellish court, not a heavenly one.

Although the tone of The Prince remained lighthearted throughout, the production made some important points about the book's lasting significance as a political tract.  Damian Lewis made a persuasive Macihavelli, his voice climbing to a crescendo as he became more and more engaged with the proceedings.