BBC Radio adaptation from 2006 of the classic, Victorian fantasy novel by H. Rider Haggard, adapted by Hattie Naylor and directed by Sara Davis. A trio of Englishmen set out for the African interior to investigate stories (part of one character’s family legends) of a tribe ruled over by a mysterious — and immortal — white woman. Tim McInnerny stars as Holly and Mia Soteriou as Ayesha (“She”) with Oliver Chris, Howard Coggins, Ben Onwukwe and Janice Acquah.

I’ll admit, I have some ambivalence to the source novel (which I read years ago). Although a genuine classic of fantasy fiction, it’s kind of an odd story in that, though technically an “adventure” — it’s not really very exciting, being slow moving and more about the characters than the cliff hangers…without the characters necessarily being as well rounded as they need to be. So in that sense, I can’t fault the radio version for its presentation of the material (although the initial quest does seem a bit perfunctory as dramatized here, the characters seeming to find this “lost” civlizxation rather quickly).

McInnerny is fine as the lead character and narrtror, but some of the supporting roles aren’t as memorable (including Leo who, in a sense, is the more stereotypical handsome leading man role) — but, again, I think that relates to the novel as much as the tradio versiopn. And I’ll admit I didn’t feel Soteriou quite evoked the presence of She (admittedly, in a radio version, I’m not sure what sort of voice I’d want — though funnily I think Janice Acquah brought more personality to her supporting role). Bottom line: it’s suitably atmospheruc and a perfectly respectable, perfectly competent adaptation of the novel, and faithful within its time and format. And I suspect it’s a hard story to dramatize as there have been a few movie versions over the years — but few are well regarded.

The Blade of the Poisoner

BBC radio adaptation from 1991 of the fantasy novel by Douglas Hill adapted in four half-hour episodes by Wally K. Daly. It’s about a 12 year old boy, Jarral, with magical powers in a fantasy world, on the run with some adult protectors (also with unique powers) from an evil king/sorcerer — or, more accurately, running toward the evil king (the king has marked the boy with a poisoned blade that will kill him by the next moon cycle if they don‘t kill the evil king first and destroy the blade).

I’m assuming the novel (and by extension this dramatization) was youth-aimed — not that it’s especially childish (there is murder and death) but it feels a bit perfunctory, like a simplified version of a fantasy epic (and with some central characters younger). As such, I may not be the ideal audience — but that may also influence how they approached it, and what effort they expended.

The script is too expositional (explaining the world and the situation in basically blocks of “info dump”) and though the characters have personality — they’re rather one note personalities, not exactly demanding a lot of nuance from the actors. There’s a certain production weakness — it’s funny to say about a radio drama, but it feels low budget. And it feels like a radio drama, where you can picture the actors cold reading their lines, script in hand, rather than truly immersing you in a 3-D world and a “movie in your mind.” Likewise the actors are fine, but neither the performances nor the dialogue, really makes the characters come alive (Ben Onwukwe as the blind knife thrower comes across best), and the plot itself is pretty rudimentary and perfunctory (maybe a flaw of the adaptation, maybe of the source novel).

As I say, I suspect it’s more seen as a “young adult” story so I may just be getting too long in the tooth to appreciate it. Although the fact that it ends promising further adventures (they defeat the king, but not the evil behind him) but didn’t, to my knowledge, do any further radio adaptations, suggests it didn’t exactly win over a large audience.