BBC Radio 7, 3-17 July 2010
This adaptation of Eliot's novel, originally broadcast in the Woman's
Hour Drama slot, divided itself neatly into two parts. The first concentrated on issues of class, religion and community, showing
how the rural, pastoral and close-knit society of Hayslope is threatened by various forces, both human and non-human.
On the one hand there are the landowners, represented by the Donnithorne family, who might seem benevolent, yet treat the
villagers as potential material for exploitation. Arthur Donnithorne (Richard Greenwood) wants to introduce new methods
of farming, using Adam Bede (Thomas Arnold) as his manager, without in the least understanding whether the community
actually wants such changes or not. The community is also threatened by human elements, notably Dinah Morris
(Vicky Liddell), a staunch follower of Wesleyan Methodism who tries to disseminate her views among the people. In some
cases she proves successful; she persuades one villager to take off her gaudy earrings. On the other hand, her presence is
resented - especially by the Bede family, following the death of Adam's father.
As the production unfolded, so the subject changed, as director Patrick
Rayner showed how the values of the community had an adverse effect on all the main characters. Adam is a hard-working
carpenter yet incapable of showing emotion. Dinah resists marriage in the belief that it will curtail her religious activities, but
we discover at the end that this is actually a cover-up; no man she truly loved has ever asked her to marry him. Hetty Sorrel
(Katherine Igoe) decides to follow the dictates of her heart and pursue Arthur, even though she is well aware of the implications
of loving beyond her social station. Eventually she is sentenced to death by hanging, on suspicion of having murdered
her baby daughter by Arthur. Her sole response is to fall silent, in the (not unjustifiable) belief that words - either
spoken or written - condemn her in the eyes of her peers. Arthur tries to do the decent thing and renounce his love for Hetty,
but we suspect that this is because he is frightened of what Adam will do to him, rather than out of any scruples for Hetty's
welfare. He remains a prisoner of his class preconceptions, always believing in his own sense of superiority.
This production culminated in a series of lengthy dialogues, which took on the
appearance of verbal battles, with the characters trying to help the other, while simultaneously trying to deal
with their personal difficulties. After considerable verbal persuasion, Dinah persuades Hetty to face what she has
done and ask for forgiveness. However Dinah finds that the only way to help herself is to renounce her Methodist preaching. Arthur
returns from soldiering and inherits the family estate on his grandfather's death; now he is in a position to have Hetty's
sentence commuted to transportation to Australia. However altruistic this act of generosity might be, it does not bring
him happiness: Hetty still thinks of him as a boy, unable to transcend his privileged upbringing and reach out to her. Adam
nobly offers to marry Hetty, but eventually discovers that he loves Dinah; however their marriage seems like one of convenience,
a union of two disillusioned souls who realize that there is nothing left to look forward to. The only truly happy character
is Hetty, who at last comes to terms with herself while understanding how constricting the world of Hayslope and its environs
actually is. For her Australia represents a new beginning, a chance to remake herself in her own way, without having
to answer to anyone.
A high-octane adaptation, punctuated with mournful music to denote the characters'
state of mind. I thoroughly enjoyed it.