Review: Gilead, Radio 3

“A man’s behaviour is usually consistent with his nature”

A 2004 novel by Marilynne Robinson, Gilead was adapted for radio by Mike Kenny in 2010 and it was purely by chance that I stumbled across it on the radio section of the BBC iPlayer before it dropped off – it was on on a Sunday rather bizarrely – but it was most serendipitous that I did as it had a lovely cast including Roger Allam, Elizabeth McGovern and *chorus of angels* Elliot Cowan.

The play recounts memories from Reverend John Ames and his early family life as he is aware he may not have much time left due to a dodgy heart. Having remarried and had a son late in life who is still only seven, Ames decides that the best (and only) legacy he can leave his child is this touchingly honest account of his life and in particular, his troubled relationship with his best friend’s son, Jack Boughton.

The main joy I get from listening to radio drama, and it is still something I do quite rarely, is really sinking into the sonorous voices of actors I like in a way that  one never quite gets in the theatre with all the other aspects of the experience to distract the attention away. And so here, it is a joy to hear Roger Allam’s Ames drawl through tales of his father and grandfather, both ministers before him, and relay his tales of hard-earned experience and how even the seemingly kindest of men can still have to wrestle with dark thoughts.

And likewise, Cowan also comes across with great characterfulness as Jack, the man who provokes such contrary emotion in the normally placid Ames, especially in his easy relationship with Elizabeth McGovern’s well-played Lila, the second wife. Without giving too much away, the denouement of the story is just heartbreakingly gorgeous, simply played under Annie Castledine’s direction and extremely powerful for it. A lovely piece of radio drama which should be worth tracking down for when it next comes on the air.

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