The Shooting Party by Isabel Colegate, adapted by D. J. Britton

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BBC Radio 4, 2-6 August 2010
Famously filmed in 1984 with James Mason in his final role, The Shooting Party tells of one day in the life of the landed gentry and their staff, as they organize a shooting party in 1913, a year before the outbreak of World War One. Jessica Dromgoole's production included a wide variety of personalities, including the host Sir Randolph Nettleby and wife Cicely (Sam Dale, Ellie Kendrick) - two ill-matched partners fond of their own company who formed an uneasy family unit; two good shots, one old - Gilbert Hartlip (Sean Baker) - and one young (Lionel Stephens, played by Michael Shelford), who are insanely jealous of one another; an animal rights campaigner Cornelius Cardew (Jude Akuwudike); a precocious child Osbert (Joshua Swinney); and an amorous servant John (Michael Shelford again) finding an unusual turn of phrase to declare his love in epistolary form.
The adaptation looked at life above and below stairs at the close of the Edwardian period; that so-called 'Golden Age' before the outbreak of World War One when it seemed that the sun would never set on the British Empire. Told in five episodes, each comprised of a series of interlinked plots, The Shooting Party depicted a world of apparent moral and social certainties, with everyone apparently knowing their place, which nonetheless seemed rotten to the core. None of the gentry knew that the mayhem they were causing by shooting anything that moved - birds, rabbits, or other small animals - would soon be reproduced on an horrific scale on the Western Front within two years. Human life became as worthless as an animal's; life-expectancy was minimal for thousands of young men forced to go 'over the top' and be mown down by enemy guns. The ambience of Colegate's novel might be genteel; but D. J. Britton's adaptation transformed it into a powerful anti-war polemic.

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