Radio Review: Possession, Radio 4

“It’s as if we’re waiting to be driven by their plot”

I’ve been something of a reluctant convert to radio drama, for every production I’ve enjoyed, there’s been one that has disappointed me, but if there is another that is as good as this version of Possession, then I will be a happy boy. Over the past three weekends, I have listened to the omnibus editions of this Radio 4 adaptation of AS Byatt’s novel by Timberlake Wertenbaker and have been utterly seduced by it. It was simply gorgeous, stunningly beautiful to listen to and deeply moving. I shall be investigating whether one can buy it as it really was that good.

Wertenbaker’s adaptation sees research assistant Roland Michell and literary scholar Maud Bailey recounting their quest to discover the secrets uncovered by two letters between Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash and a woman named Christabel Lamotte which threaten to upturn literary history with their revelations. They are pursued by other more nefarious sorts who also want the correspondence and so the race is on to be the first to discover the truth. This story is enhanced by the reciting of letters between Ash and Lamotte as we follow their story of an illicit yet all-consumingly passionate affair which is revealed at the same time.

It is one of those things that it is basically impossible to do justice to, and now it is too late for me to be able to recommend you give it a listen as it is no longer on the iPlayer. But the combination of achingly wistful narration, simply perfect casting and beautiful music was a match made in heaven in Celia de Wolff’s production. Harry Hadden-Paton and Jemma Redgrave as the slightly socially inept Roland and Maud, academics to their core, were ideally matched as the central couple, Hadden-Paton’s voice in particular seems really well suited to creating character on radio, but the masterstroke was in getting Rachael Stirling to play Christabel, her unmistakeably rich tones almost too painful to bear detailing the tortured romance with James D’Arcy’s Ash. Oh, it was just gorgeous stuff.

With a supporting cast that included the likes of Stella Gonet, Bill Paterson, Matthew Marsh and Jonjo O’Neill, it feels like it was almost made for me, but it does have to be probably the best thing I have heard on the radio ever since I started listening late last year. If I find out that it is being released anywhere, I will let you know as I urge you to track it down if possible.

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