Beyond Borders by Mike Walker

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Radio 4 Afternoon Play website

BBC Radio 4, 16 December 2011 
Someone in Radio 4's scheduling department must have been attuned to current events. Beyond Borders told the story of the creation in 1950 of the organization that would later become the European Union. The chief architect of the scheme was Jean Monnet (Timothy West), who gathered a small group at his cottage outside Paris to create a plan to bring the coal industries of France and Germany together. After several drafts, they produced a 140-word memo which formed the basis for the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community. Great Britain were invited to join, but declined, once they learned that Monnet and his group of politicians were refusing to treat them as a special case. Monnet observed that Britain seemed more interested in forming an alliance with the United States, or working with Australia and New Zealand, even though both countries were several thousand miles away. Although these events took place sixty-one years ago, they have particular significance at a time when Britain has refused to enter into an EU-sponsored rescue plan; the only country out of the 27 members not to agree to it.
Mike Walker structured Beyond Borders as a quest-narrative, paying tribute to Monnet's skill as a negotiator. Initially it seemed as if his dream of a united states of Europe was going to be frustrated, but through a combination of quiet determination and sheer bloody-mindedness, he achieved his aim. He was greatly helped in his task by his wife Sylvia (Lesley Manville), who although not directly involved in the negotiations, provided him with both moral and emotional support.
Although Monnet was the main character in the play, the narrative itself was recounted from multiple perspectives, including those of Sylvia, as well as Monnet's colleagues Etienne Hirsch (Daniel Weyman) and Paul Reuter (Philip Jackson). By such means Walker emphasized the importance of collaboration: Monnet could not have achieved his aim without the help of his team.
Walker also showed how the domestic and the political were inextricable: Monnet's team worked at his cottage, rather than in an office, and conducted most of their negotiations in the garden, over meals, or in the living-room. This decision was a sound one: the team could pursue their task without being interrupted by politicians. Sylvia Monnet also assumed an important role - as well as preparing meals and looking after the team, she offered a refreshingly pragmatic opinion on many of their negotiations. The plan was not just an economic one; its main aim was to transform the make-up of Europe, and thus had to be understandable to everyone, not just bureaucrats. Sylvia's opinions made sure that this was borne in mind.
In the end the document was finally created and approved by the French and German governments. Monnet emerged triumphant, despising those who wanted to impede its progress - for example, the British government - by conducting "talks about talks," as he put it.
Beyond Borders was an inspiring tale of dedication to a cause. I only wish that today's politicians - both in Britain and elsewhere - could learn from Monnet's example, as they try to determine the fate of Europe in troubled times.
** This play drew a considerable amount of comment in the press: which I had not seen when I wrote this review. For links, see below.

Comentary on the Newspaper Reviews by Nigel Deacon