BBC Radio 4, 2-9 May 2010
Laurie Lee's autobiographical novel has frequently suffered from prettification
in its adaptations, as directors have recreated an edenic world of early twentieth century England full of golden sunshine,
verdant landscapes and endless summers. In Marc Beeby and Jeremy House's production recorded on location in Slad and Mugborough,
Gloucestershite, the novel was transformed into a rite-of-passage drama told by the older Laurie (Tim McInnerny).
It has to be said Laurie (aka Lol) took great pleasure in describing the landscape
- a sensuous, verdant world where children could run wild without fear of being harmed (which is certainly not the same today).
However it was also a place where citizens could be beaten up and left for dead for no apparent reason, if their faces did
not fit. The English village of the mid-twentieth century was a parochial place at best. Lee's family also experienced periods
of hardship - especially during the long hot summer of 1921 when the crops shrivelled, and Lee's mother (Niamh Cusack) did
her best to support a large family.
At the same time Lee's childhood was a time of gradual discovery, as he discovered
that not all women were as pliant as he had been brought up to believe. One of his friends was raped by a woman, while Lee
himself was cornered by Rosie and drunk cider with her. However nothing ever came of it, apart from a kiss: Lee could enjoy
himself "swinging on motionless time" without fear.
But the idyll could not last. A lone piano mournfully trilling away in the background
suggested this, as the members of the Lee family grew up and got married, leaving Mother to fend for herself. She became more
and more distracted, cleaning the house over and over again in an effort to keep herself busy. Lee returned home and found
himself almost smothered by her love. Now an adult, he could no longer accept the fact that in his mother's eyes at least,
he was still a child.
Mother remained buoyed up by the hope that her husband, who left her long ago, would
return to her sometime. However she learned at length that this dream would never be fulfilled - as a result, she hallucinated
and died, Her demise signalled the end of Lee's childhood; from now on, he had to fend for himself in the city. At the same
time village life collapsed; most of the younger residents moved away, leaving only a few frail pensioners to fend for themselves.
The overriding impression at the end of this adaptation was one of loss - of a way of life that once could be characterized
as 'typically English,' and a time of innocence for Lee himself as he grew up.