'The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." The opening lines of LP Hartley's The Go-Between are by now probably more famous than the actual book. A pity, because it is a brilliant exploration of love, lust and innocence lost, beautifully written and subtly imagined. Now, a new adaptation for the BBC by Adrian Hodges is likely to revive interest in the book, which is a good thing.
Jim Broadbent plays Leo Colston, a man in his 60s who chances upon his own diary, from the year 1900, and reads it, re-immersing himself in the dramatic events of one long, hot summer when he was 13 - events that he has been unable to think about ever since. Invited home for the holidays by a much richer, grander school friend, Leo (played as a boy by Jack Hollington) enters the world of the Maudsleys at Brandham Hall, a kind of golden existence of the late Victorian age, played out among croquet and tennis games, afternoon tea on the lawn and house parties. He is at first humble and hesitant, away from home and school for the first time, but the family are kind to him and soon Leo is smitten, particularly with Marian (played by Joanna Vanderham, pictured above, when young, Vanessa Redgrave when older), daughter of the house and about to become engaged to Viscount Trimingham.
Beautiful and charming, she entirely dazzles Leo, so that when she asks him to carry a note to a local tenant farmer, Ted Burgess (Ben Batt), Leo says yes. Leo finds himself carrying notes back and forth between the pair, and begins to slowly realise that he is caught up in something well beyond his experience; something he doesn't fully understand. But by the time he wants out, it's too late - their reliance on him as go-between, even witness, to their love affair is too strong. Both are reckless, knowingly courting disaster but so smitten with each other that they are unable to draw back. As he reads back his diary entries and begins to better understand the story through adult eyes, the older Leo begins to realise the profound impact that summer had on him and the rest of his life, and the reasons why he has grown up to avoid emotion where possible, drawing back from life whenever it threatens to become too intense.
Hartley's writing is exquisite - The Go-Between is the book that made him famous - but there is plenty of drama too, so that this stands an excellent chance of translating well to the screen. An earlier film version, with a script by Harold Pinter, starring Julie Christie and Alan Bates (with Broadbent himself in a tiny, uncredited role), made in 1971, won Pinter a Bafta and is generally considered among director Joseph Losey's best work.
This new adaptation is part of a new series of Sunday night drama on BBC1 that began with Lady Chatterley's Lover and continued last week with Helen Edmundson's version of JB Priestley's An Inspector Calls, starring David Thewlis, Ken Stott and Miranda Richardson. That was well-acted, although the source material is annoyingly bombastic. Next in the series is Cider With Rosie, with Samantha Morton as Annie Lee; a kind of trip through the British classics. As an idea, it's a good one. None of the books would make a full series, but they all tap into the unabated desire for period drama - perfect Sunday night escapism.
Of the process of adapting The Go-Between, writer and producer Adrian Hodges said frankly: "I'm not so much a fan of the book as a groupie really. I first read the book at university, and then I sort of ripped it off tremendously for my first film The Bridge , so it's a book that's stayed with me for years. When the opportunity came to adapt it, it's a dream come true for a writer."
The Go-Between airs on BBC1 on Sunday Sept 20th at 9pm
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