BBC Radio 4, 23 January - 13 February 2011
In Janet Whitaker's production, The Moonstone came across as a
detective story that ultimately frustrates listeners' expectation. The story focuses on a diamond stolen from an
Indian deity, whose action shifts from the sub-continent, to Yorkshire and the back-streets of London. No one knows who actually
committed the theft, or where the diamond is; the action of this four-part adaptation consisted of the attempts
by various people to find things out. Superintendent Cuff, the pride of Scotland Yard (Kenneth Cranham) brought his considerable
experience to bear, but could not solve the case.
In Whitaker's production, each episode was told from different narrative perspectives:
the first was told by the servant Betteridge (Steve Hodson); the second by Cuff; the third by amiable spinster Miss Clack
(Marcia Warren); and the fourth by Franklin Blake (Paul Rhys). While all of them had different views on the case, and how
it might be solved, none of them succeded in doing so. By such means Whitaker showed how real-life cases lacked the linearity
commonly associated with detective fiction: one event did not automatically follow one another leading to a satisfying conclusion.
Although the thief's identity is eventually discovered, Whitaker showed that this was entirely due to coincidence, rather
than to the investigator's deductive powers. Consequently The Moonstone appeared as a detective novel that consciously
subverted the conventions associated with the form.
By telling each episode from different perspectives, Whitaker also gave the respective
actors the opportunities to create memorable characterizations. Hodson's Betteridge was bluff yet fiercely loyal to his employer
Lady Verinder (Eleanor Bron), even if this forced him to conceal important evidence from the superintendent. Cuff adopted
a dry, rather cynical approach to solving the case; for him it was nothing more than looking at the evidence in detail and
drawing appropriate conclusions. However he ended up by accusing the wrong person - the innocent Rachel Verinder (Jasmine
Hyde) whose suspicious behaviour was provoked out of a desire to protect her close friends. Miss Clack revealed a quasi-Jonsonian
obsession with religion and good deeds - so much so that she could not understand anything that was happening in front of
her. Franklin Blake tried to adopt a more level-headed stance, but he appeared lost amongst the opium-addicts of central London.
Consistently entertaining throughout its four-hour running time, the production vindicated
T. S. Eliot's claim that The Moonstone was the first and best British detective novel, even while subverting it.