Adam Bede by George Eliot, adapted by Robert Forrest

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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.