Fortunes of War by Olivia Manning, adapted by Lin Coghlan

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BBC Radio 4 Extra, 4-11 April 2011
Olivia Manning's wartime saga of love and relationships was memorably adapted for television in 1987 with the then husband-and-wife team of Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson in leading roles.
In Colin Guthrie and Marc Beeby's production, first broadcast in 2008, the older Harriet Pringle (Joanna Lumley) looked back on her experiences with a mixture of nostalgia and regret. Her adventures in Second World War Romania, Greece and Egypt brought her close to her friends than she coud ever have imagined, as she relied on them for support. However her loyalty towards her lecturer husband Guy (Khalid Abdalla) proved misplaced, as his obsession with work and good deeds rendered him insensitive to his wife's emotional trauma. She was condemned to a life of splendid isolation as a British Council wife.
Guthrie and Beeby approached Manning's book as a tale of loss, as the younger Harriet (Honeysuckle Weeks) gradually discovered that her marriage was a sham, a means for Guy to sustain a facade of respectability as he moved from place to place teaching English and preaching a liberal message to his learners. Honeysuckle's mood was suggested by snatches of melancholy music played on the flute and oboe. Her mood was shared by the other protagonists: Guy was tormented by guilt for having remained on the sidelines during the Spanish Civil War, the knowledge of which impelled him to do more and more during the Second World War. Clarence (Alex Wyndham) fell in love with Harriet, but never could sunmmon up sufficient courage to have an affair with her.
This six-part serial was constructed as a picaresque adventure, full of unlikely meetings and coincidences. This kind of treatment underlined the randomness of life during wartime, where no one quite knew what would happen next. Sometimes their experiences would be tragic; on other occasions they would have moments of extreme joy. The survivors were those who treated life with a Kiplingesque stoicism, approaching triumph and disaster with equanimity. Harriet and Guy eventually learned this, as they came to love one another while recognizing that they led totally separate lives. Their marriage stood the test of time, only coming to an end with Guy's death in 1976. The older Harriet contemplated his photo, encased in a silver frame, and wondered whether this life of peaceful indifferent had not been ideal for both of them; at least it endowed them with the strength to cope with any circumstance.
The production was not devoid of orientalist elements: the Britons treated the locals with disdain, while Guthrie and Beeby's treatment of non-English characters was perfunctory, to say the least, as they spoke in uniform British Asian accents. In the directors' defence, however, we should remember that Fortunes of War was not conceived as a historical narrative but recorded the experiences of Britons trying to cope with the horrors of war in a frequently difficult environment. The production successfully communicated this admittedly modest aim, as well as erasing one's memories of the television adaptation. For this the directors should be congratulated.