Libertarianspirit's Blog

Reviews of radio and audio programmes around the world

The Carhullan Army: Radio and Audio Review 4th April 2011

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Listening to the radio in 1924. Illustration copyright the estate of Constance Winifred Honey

BBC Radio Four schedulers have foolishly abandoned the ninety minute feature length film frame for radio drama, but the form is maintained with force and elegance by BBC Radio Three. The contemporary novelist Sarah Hall, ‘one of the most original and exciting voices in contemporary British fiction’ according to the BBC publicity machine, sustains this hype with a magnificent dramatisation of her third 2007 novel The Carhullan Army.

She was assisted in the audio-movie scripting by Dominic Power and nothing is held back in the course of literary honesty and expression including a liberal, though dramatically justifiable use, of the ‘f’ and ‘c’ four letter words.

The character, Corky:

What have we got here. Ladies’ fucking sewing circle?

and Jackie Nixon:

I’ll turn your turn-coat cunt of a wife to my dogs.

The actress Geraldine James manages to sing a guerrilla political song on the Cumbrian Hills throbbing with menace and resistance and gives it edge and power in a brilliant and terrifying performance.

An army of independent and survivalist women live and breathe in the mountains of the Lake District, in opposition to a dystopian and phallocentric society where women are physically oppressed and abused by the compulsory insertion of ‘The Regulator’- a coiled and wired contraceptive device, the removal of which, represents personal freedom and the road to liberty.

The story interrogates political resistance, violence, terrorism, cruelty, and ambiguities generated by the compromising paradox of human nature and emotions. A coterie of men is used to fertilise the Carhullan Army’s leaders, but Sister prefers the tenderness of her own gender:

I don’t know if I loved her. Perhaps I did. I liked her body. The taste of her. It felt good to let myself go.

The narrative structure is contained through the violent interrogation of Sister by the military fascist state at a detention centre in Lancaster. Detective Nicola Baker does the questioning, and this is the device used for Sister to flashback her account of her journey and participation in the Carhullan Army.

There are touches of restrained though effective novelistic writing:

 An owl flew over the grassland, sweeping to the ground and up. For a second I caught a reflection in its eye; a weird flash of yellow-green like a battery light flaring on and off again. I felt the presence of watchers on the hillside. Haunting with nocturnal vision.

Jackie Nixon, having despatched her cancer-ridden lover Veronique with a bullet, has no qualms ordering the coup de grace for her severely injured cousin:

This is the butcher’s bill. This is what it looks like to be nothing. Don’t ever forget it.

Sister appears to discover how the corruption of unlimited power and grief over her lover’s death eats away at Jackie’s humanity to the point she rules with paranoia and arbitrary tyranny. But as Sister so intriguingly rues:

It was terrible and it was beautiful.

Superb performances by Anne-Marie Duff and Geraldine James and the rest of the cast with excellent direction and production by Lawrence Jackson and Frank Sterling in an impressive Unique independent production.

It might be argued that Anne-Marie Duff and Jane Whittenshaw have similar voices though the skill of their respective characterisations mean they are sufficiently distinguished.

It is a shame that a production of this quality is available on listen again for only 7 days.

The Patient, part of a five part series of horror thrillers based on the world of the phone, the evolution of BBC Radio Seven into BBC Four Extra, is sending a chill down listener’s spines. Doctor Harris is an emergency medic on call to an abandoned council estate where the haunting refrain of Christina Rossetti’s famous poetic line ‘Remember Me’ conjures an echo of a neglected patient seeking supernatural revenge and making the doctor fear that which she fears most. Simon Passmore’s half hour script is a magnificent throwback to the age of CBS ‘Suspense’ in the 1940s.

Audio version of the review by Tim Crook

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