BBC Radio 4, 27 August 2011
In 1964 Alfred Hitchcock relocated Winston Graham's story to California
and turned it into a macabre male fantasy with Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery in the leading roles. The finished product proved
quite disturbing, not least for the way in which Hitchcock treated Hedren as an object of his sexual frustrations, despite
the huge age-difference.
Sean McKenna's radio version restored the tale to its original West Country origins.
The eponymous central character (Jade Williams), a young woman in her early twenties, is a compulsive thief adoping a variety
of aliases in a career of crime, as she takes jobs in a variety of towns - mostly clerical work - and fleeces the firms (and
their bosses) of their resources. Eventually she gets her comeuppance as she is forced to marry handsome company director
Mark Rutland (Patrick Kennedy), or else face a long spell in jail. She does so; but the marriage is not a success, due in
no small part to Marnie's fear of sexual contact. Eventually Mark's rival Terry (Carl Prekopp) finds out about Marnie's
shady past and contrives to send her to prison. Marnie goes, insisting all the while that she is doing it for Mark's
In Marion Nancarrow's production this plot proved a pretext for the study of a psychologically
disturbed young woman, who may or may not have been abused by her father (Nancarrow deliberately did not make this clear),
but who experienced the horror of seeing her mother killing her new-born baby brother to prevent anyone discovering that he
had been born out of wedlock. It was hardly surprising that Marnie should have possessed such fears of close
physical contact in her mature years.
However I did wonder whether Nancarrow's production was less about Marnie herself,
and more about Graham's fears of the female sex, as he creates a psychologically disturbed character shorn of any
redeeming features. If this is the case, then perhaps Hitchcock did not need to change very much when he adapted the story
for the screen; the opportunities for objectifying Marnie, as well as transforming her into a monster, were already present
in the source-text. By contrast Rutland remains an innocent, who tries yet fails to normalize his bride; when that strategy
fails, he places her in a psychiatrist's hands. We are clearly meant to feel sorry for him; in Nancarrow's production he seemed
like a cipher, a representative of so-called "rational" maleness designed to make Marnie appear more monstrous.
Graham's novel is clearly a period-piece, the product of a pre-feminist era when
little or nothing was known about female psychology, despite the appearance of the Kinsey reports in the early 1950s. In dramatic
terms Nancarrow's production was entertaining enough, but it reminded me of just how much our understanding of gender construction
has changed over the past five decades.