J'Accuse by Hattie Naylor

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BBC Radio 4, 13 June 2009
Set in Paris in 1894, J'Accuse looked at the famous Dreyfus case from the point of view of Louis, a right-wing Parisian (Mark Heap), who did not perceive the eponymous Dreyfus as a martyr, but rather as a threat (on account of his Jewishness) to the stability of nineteenth century French society. Dreyfus' struggles were set against the plight of Louis himself, a struggling writer endeavouring to make his way yet perpetually denied by one major shortcoming - a pronounced lack of talent. But does talent tammter in a world dominated by prejudice and snap judgements? Far better to compensate for one's inadequacies by criticizing others, particularly when the object of Louis' scorn was both a Jew and an army officer (i.e. a member of a 'regular' profession guaranteeing both security and future happiness). J'Accuse was not so much about the Dreyfus case, but rather pointed an accusing finger at those who exploited the affair for their own ends.
Naylor created an insular world in which Louis believed himself to be both intellectually and socially superior to everyone else. He dominated his partner Dominique (Kathryn Hunt), while making pronouncements on anything that took his fancy. The fact that such pronouncements were supremely self-indulgent did not matter: Louis believed himself to be a major focus of attention. Naylor contrasted his complacency with the sufferings of Dreyfus himself (Paul Mundell) - a basically decent man victimized by a racist society. Although determined to defend himself, Dreyfus' morale was gradually eroded as he came to terms with the fact that no one wanted to talk to him any more; even when he did speak, most of his statements were deliverately misquoted or misunderstood. As a Jew, he was made the scapegoat for all of the city's social and political problems.
Although set in the late 1890s, J'Accuse showed how racism - especially anti-semitism - is as much inspired by fear of the other, as the desire to confirm one's social and ethnic superiority. Invariably it is inspired by ignorance, as well as a desire to preserve the status quo, even if that status quo is fundamentally decadent. Mark Heap tried his best to endear himself as the dilettante Louis - a strategy which rendered him more sinister, as we understood the extent to which he could influence public opinion in Parisian society. The director of this uncomfortable Saturday Play was Pauline Harris.