Clarissa (2010)

Radio theatre review: Clarissa (2010), directed by Marilyn Imrie, adapted by Hattie Naylor

First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in the spring of 2010, Clarissa is a condensed version of Samuel Richardson’s Mount Everest of British literature. One million words, put into four compelling one-hour parts. I had heard the book mentioned before, but the first “real” hearing about it was very recently. It featured (with the Sean Bean adaptation) in the “Villains” episode of Faulks on Fiction, and Jonia mentioned it on her blog, and also linked to where the episodes can be found. Much obliged! 🙂

The story centers around a young woman by the name of Clarissa Harlowe (Zoe Waites) who has inherited her grandfather’s estate. Her sister Bella (Sophie Thompson) is courted by Mr. Robert Lovelace (Richard Armitage), but when she decides against him for some fairly flimsy reason, he in turns sets his eyes on Clarissa instead. Lovelace (so fittingly pronounced “love-less” rather than “love-lace”) is not a man to take a no for an answer – he’s completely obsessed, and being threatened (and fought) by Clarissa’s brother doesn’t stop him in his wicked pursuit.

Meanwhile, a Mr. Solmes (Stephen Critchlow) comes a-courtin’, but Clarissa is repulsed by him in every way possible: he’s if not older than at least the same age as her dad, and he’s fat and way too fond of biscuits and his conversation leaves a lot to be desired. Her family is not put off by him at all, they want the marriage to go ahead and make preparations to take Clarissa and force her to the altar. In desperation, Clarissa turns to Lovelace (a man she has never been impressed by and have actively tried to dissuade up to this point), who through some clever manipulation of one of the Harlowe’s servants makes her believe that they’re both about to be shot … and instead, she flees with him.

However, Clarissa has by no means decided to become Mrs. Lovelace because of this, so he continues to try and snag her affections with even more manipulation, and Clarissa finds herself a prisoner, with her family believing she’s no longer a virtuous lady, they refuse to let her come home and not marry Mr. Solmes.

As the only thing I knew about the story was the brief explanation given in Faulks on Fiction, I had no real preconceptions, but listened with an open mind. My ears were very pleased indeed, I’m happy to report! 🙂

Some bits were laugh-out-loud funny, which I really didn’t expect. Lady Harlowe’s (Alison Steadman, a.k.a. Mrs. Bennett ’95) confusion with regards to the word “libertine” was really rather amusing, for instance, but the one that really had me laughing was when Lovelace and his pals were talking in different languages, and someone says what his German word meant, and then second-guessed himself.

All the actors were really good. Solmes was delightfully disgusting and Stephen Critchlow really made him sound like a fat, old pig. Made my skin crawl and I really sympathised with Clarissa when she didn’t want to marry him! What really made my skin crawl, however, was Robert Lovelace. Richard Armitage has said that he wanted Guy of Gisborne to have that effect on people, but the problem with Guy was that he was just too darn loveable and redeemable.

JT, you have nothing in common with Lovelace.
Other than you both wear a cravat.
But I couldn’t find a picture of RA in 18th Century clothing.

Perhaps it’s easier to distance yourself when you can’t see those dashing good looks, but Lovelace (even though Richard Armitage sings in part two and that man can really sing!) is not a loveable rogue or anything like that. He’s a freakin’ capital EVIL BASTARD! He’s so manipulative he’d put Salazar Slytherin to shame. Because we get to hear how he acts toward Clarissa but also how he acts toward his comrades, his less-than-honourable intentions are clear to see. This is definitely the first time Mr. Armitage has managed to freak me the hell out. Lovelace is a big-time, major league sociopath, and even if he does have a velvety, smooth voice, that doesn’t change the fact that Lovelace is not someone you want to associate yourself with!

The production had me on my toes and listened with a keen interest, and without without losing attention, which in itself is a bit of an accomplishment. It was thoroughly enjoying to listen to, and I was both amused, disgusted, moved and creeped out. An emotional rollercoaster, even though I struggled with Clarissa as a character and thought she was being a bit too difficult and that her actions didn’t make much sense at times: “I hate you, go away! … But I’ll keep writing to you, even though that means that you won’t be discouraged, rather the opposite. And I won’t go see you in the summer house … except I will. But I still don’t like you! But I’ll run away with you.” FFS WOMAN MAKE YOUR MIND UP AND STICK TO IT!

5 out of 5 summer houses.

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