The Leopard

2008 90 min BBC Radio adaptation by Michael Hastings of the classic novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, basically chronicling the end of the age of the aristocracy by focusing on a wealthy Italian family circa the mid-19th  Century while society changes around them in the midst of on going civil wars and strife, focusing in particular on the proud, imperious patriarch, Don Fabrizio (Stanley Townsend) — the “leopard” of the title — and his favourite nephew, Tancredi (Tom Hiddleston) who enthusiastically fights for various rebels.

It’s one of those productions that isn’t bad…but didn’t quite click for me.

I think it’s partly condensing it into 90 min (even an earlier movie version ran 3 hrs!). Instead of simply getting caught up in the characters and soap opera, you can find that, reduced to its core elements, you aren’t really sure what its point is, and don’t really get involved with the characters. Characters come and go, barely appearing until relevant to a particular scene, and often emotions, motivation, and plot points are bluntly explained in dialogue or laid out in voiceover narrations.

I’ll admit, I partly was keen to listen to it because it featured Hayley Atwell, who (whom?) I’ve liked in various movie and TV roles. But though she’s certainly a significant character (playing Angelica, whom Tancredi marries), given the running time and the size of the cast, it wasn’t that big, or well-defined, a part. She only really is in a few scenes, with a few lines — so, a disappointment if you tuned in for her! Not that that‘s important overall (it‘s not like the production was marketed as “starring” Atwell or anything) but I‘m just putting my biases on the table (looking at some other write ups about this production, a lot of the commentators I’m guessing were female and Tom Hiddleston fans).

Although I could fault creative choices in this adaptation, I’m inclined to say the main problem was simply that it was just inadvisable to try and squeeze the story into 90 minutes, and it might have been better to do a longer, serialized adaptation (mind you, I haven’t read the novel, so maybe I’d have the same issues with the source). Ultimately it’s a production that might appeal to fans of the novel, simply as a way of evoking the book, and it’s not badly made — enough so that it doesn’t discourage you from seeking out the book — without being that compelling on its own.

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