Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, adapted by Elizabeth North

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BBC Radio 7, 29 October - 5 November 2010
In Brian Miller's production, Jude the Obscure came across as a coming-of-age melodrama detailing the life and loves of the eponymous central character (Michael Pennington) from boyhood into manhood. It was constructed as a series of short dramatic interludes, linked with pastoral music played on a flute, that not only contextualized the action in late nineteenth-century Wessex, but gave some sense of the story's timelessness: what happened to Jude could equally well happen to others in different periods of history.
The story centred around Jude's encounters with two women - Arabella (Josie Lawrence) and Sue Bridehead (Janet Maw). Arabella came across as a brassy, outgoing personality out to exploit men for her own ends. Jude seemed to her like a suitable catch, with his book-learning and educational aspirations, but her illusions soon dissipated, as she discovered that he lacked the strength to fulfil his ambitions. By contrast Sue came across as a good-hearted woman frightened of making emotional commitments. Her so-called 'love affair' with Jude existed only on the platonic level, as Sue refused to confront any issues that might disturb her sang-froid. Hence she willingly chose to accept a proposal from ageing schoolteacher Mr. Phillipson (John Normington); she did not love him, but she relished the idea of social respectability.
Jude remained an enigmatic soul - capable of great love, which was expressed through flights of rhetorical fancy addressed direct to the listeners, but lacking both the desire and the energy to fulfil his aspirations. He remained an outsider, a would-be scholar doomed to live on the margins of a rural society. Director Miller obviously sympathized with his plight: the musical interludes became more and more elegaic as the six-part adaptation unfolded, summing up Jude's frustrations. Yet Miller also showed that Hardy was no sentimentalist - while Hardy might empathize with Jude's plight, he will not let him escape scot-free. The ending of the adaptation proved almost unendurably painful: Jude's voice declined to a pathetic whisper as he quite literally faded into obscurity and death. Although the landscape might have been timeless, the characters were nonetheless entirely responsible for their own destinies.