BBC Radio 4, 7 March 2009
This second installment of the Ripley saga found our eponymous antihero
(Ian Hart) involved in an elaborate conspiracy to forge the work of a recently-deceased artist Durward. Together with his
two accomplices Bernard (Benedict Sandford), an artist, and Jeff (Stephen Hogan), a gallery-owner, Ripley markets false works
to be sold on the open market, as well as impersonating Durward himself. The scheme works fine until Ripley encounters the
zealous Merchison (Malcolm Tierney), who not only uncovers the whole scheme but unmasks Ripley's remarkable double life.
The story subsequently unfolds as a cross between Gothic horror and serial
killer melodrama. Ripley kills Merchison by hitting him on the head with a coal-scuttle and disposing of the body in woods
near his home in France. Meanwhile Bernard opts out of the conspiracy; when Ripley tries to restrain him, Bernard goes to
Ripley's house, hits him over the head and buries him alove. Fortunately Bernard does not do the job efficiently enough: Ripley
escapes and catches up with the unfortunate artist in Salzburg, Austria. With no other course of action available, Bernard
commits suicide; Ripley burns the body, removes the teeth and eyes and takes it back to France, where he persuades the police
that it is actually Durward's body. By such means Ripley escapes scot-free and lives to kill and other day.
As with The Talented Mr. Ripley, Ripley Under Ground emphasizes
the instability of identity: Ripley can switch personalities at will in pursuit of his aims. Through occasional carefully
placed asides, he tries to convince us that what he is doing is perfectly logical, and undertaken with the best of intentions.
At no point do we believe him to be a psychopath, for whom killing is second nature. The fact that Ripley is involved in a
forging scam comes as no surprise; his life operates round false identities, so creating false paintings represents another
manifestation of this state of mind. His two sidekicks, Bernard and Jeff, are at least redeemed by the fact they they possess
a conscience; when things go too far, they try to give themselves up to the police. But Ripley remains totally ruthless; nothing
matters except the fact that he should escape blame, even though it has to be done "in a dying kind of way" (as he remarks
at the end). This chilling portrayal of someone literally coming back from the dead was directed by Claire Grove.