“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” That has to be one of the best opening lines to a novel ever! The Go-Between was my set text for English Literature GCSE, and it says a lot for the book that I’m extremely fond of it despite having to write all those essays about various aspects of it! We watched the 1971 film adaptation at school, and I saw it again quite recently and was interested to find out that the BBC had made a new version. Why, though, did they put it out head-to-head with the first episode of the new series of Downton Abbey?! Oh well, thank goodness for things like Sky Plus and iPlayer :-).
It’s very hard to fit a whole book, even one which isn’t particularly long, into an hour and a half’s TV programme, and there were things which were noticeably missing or not given as much emphasis as they might have been – Leo being teased at school, Trimingham saying that nothing was ever a lady’s fault, Leo not fitting into upper-class circles and wanting to wear his school cap for the cricket match, the Boer War and the parallels Leo drew between the Boers and the British lower-classes, the symbolism of the deadly nightshade, the hot weather, and the whole thing about it being 1900 and the start of a century which promised so much but was to go so tragically wrong for Leo’s generation. However, as I said, you can’t get everything in, and it’s unfair to nitpick … er, although I’m nitpicking anyway!
In terms of comparison with the 1971 film – also unfair! – I don’t think that Joanna Vanderham and Ben Batt had the same chemistry as Julie Christie and Alan Bates did, but then this version seemed to be concentrating more on both of them as individuals. I gather that a lot of people have whinged that the scene involving Ted swimming was put in to give viewers a Ross Poldark-esque moment with a bare-chested hero, but that scene is actually in the book!
Young Jack Hollington as Leo was absolutely superb, though! Incidentally, I Googled him after catching the odd trace of a north west accent slipping through the character’s posh-ish voice (only a trace – I’m not criticising!) and I gather that he’s from Merseyside. Brilliant performance from a young lad given a central role. Very, very impressive.
It’s such a sad story, though … sad in a subtle way, until the dramatic ending, and all the more emotive for that. You can see that there aren’t going to be any winners in this, even if you can’t guess just how badly it’s going to turn out. There are a lot of books about forbidden love in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and they might make for good entertainment but they are very realistic social tragedies: there was no place in that society in which an upper-class woman and a working-class man could be together. Then there’s Lord Trimingham, who’s such a kind person but, who gets kicked in the teeth by life – badly scarred in the Boer War, for whatever financial reason has had to let his house out to the Maudsleys, and ends up marrying a woman who’s carrying another man’s child, and then dying young. And, above all, there’s Leo, emotionally scarred for life by the events of that one summer. And the echo of the effects down the years, on Marian and Ted’s grandson.
It’s a wonderful book, it really is, and this was a very good adaptation of it by the BBC. It’s just such a shame that they chose to put it on at a time when most of the period-drama-viewing public were bound to be glued to ITV!