Whenever any respected story is adapted from one medium to another, there is always the inevitable concern over whether justice will be done to the original. What if messages are lost or mangled, with narrative details often cropped or exaggerated or deleted entirely to better suit the different format?
Thankfully, the BBC’s adaptation of the 1945 play An Inspector Calls manages to complement its source material, despite some minor artistic licence towards the twists and turns of its conclusion. This is a testament to both the team at the Beeb, as well as the strength of playwright J. B. Priestley, whose work still feels all too relevant 70 years on.
Taking place in a pre-war 1912 England, far too cocksure for its own good, the Birling family are enjoying a wealth of good fortune. Mr Birling is revelling in the prospect of a knighthood, his daughter is engaged to wed his promising young business partner, and despite rumours of looming conflict with Germany, all are in foolishly good spirits. Of course, this cheer doesn’t last as unbeknownst to them, the mysterious Inspector Goule is about to make a house call with questions regarding the suicide of Eva Smith, a common girl. These questions unearth numerous connections and ultimately force the Birlings to re-evaluate their selfless lifestyle.
The cast allow for satisfying viewing, with Ken Scott’s huffing, red-faced Mr Birling, Chloe Pirrie’s sour and sourer-faced Sheila Birling, and her fiancé – Kyle Soller’s apologetic gentleman, Gerald Croft – all filling most of the runtime with appropriately guilt-ridden faces in the Inspector’s interrogation.
The steely, holier-than-thou Sybil, and the increasingly sickly Eric Birling (portrayed by Miranda Richardson and Finn Cole respectively), remain silent throughout the majority of the thriller, but come into their stride in the final part of the Inspector’s questioning, with Cole’s Eric in particular becoming visibly pained the longer he remains unconfessed.
David Thewlis makes for a far more emotive Goule than the solemn, mechanical character he is often depicted as, with a gentle sadness building to omniscient disgust in the face of the Birlings’ despicable behaviour. The Inspector’s identity and nature is even openly toyed with, with added scenes toward the climax of the tale certainly adding fuel to any potential speculation.
And yet, the most noteworthy aspect of the adaptation is in fact the depiction of Eva Smith herself. A character barely expanded past the recollections of the Birling household in the original play, the terrible story of her social decline is made all the more powerful yet tragic through Sophie Rundle’s portrayal. From a confident and fierce heroine in the face of Mr Birling, to a frail, bullied and desperate creature by the end, her character’s transformation helps maintain Priestley’s socialist story moral; “We don’t live alone upon this earth. We are responsible for each other.”
While some aspects of the character’s demise are painfully drawn out, relinquishing the available subtlety of the source materials ending, as adaptations go, this one’s definitely worth a watch!
What did you think of An Inspector Calls?
Comment with your thoughts.
– Charlie Hamilton