Villette BBC Radio 4 Audio Drama 1999

Villette was written by Charlotte Bronte and published in 1853.

It was first broadcast in February 1999, Villette  was adapted as a 3-hour radio serial for BBC Radio 4 and went on to win a Sony Award which when you look at the cast is not really that surprising. And what a great cast with Catherine McCormack as Lucy Snowe, Joseph Fiennes as Dr Graham Bretton, Harriet Walter as Mme Beck, James Laurenson as Paul Emmanuel, and surprisingly Keira Knightley as Polly. It was directed by Catherine Bailey and written by James Friel.

The novel is apparently semi-autobiographical and I found it to be very dark indeed and throughout the story you do wonder about the sanity of our heroine, Ms Lucy Snowe.

We first meet Ms Lucy Snowe at the age of 14. She is observing Mrs. Bretton her Godmother, Graham Bretton her son and young Polly Home.

Lucy leaves the house and is hired to care for a rheumatically crippled woman called Miss Marchmont who one evening shares her sad love story of thirty years ago and the death of her beau. The very next morning Miss Marchmont is found peacefully dead in bed.

After an unspecified family tragedy we find Lucy aged 23 she boards a ship for bound for France even though she cannot speak a word of French. She has no idea where she is heading but ends up in the capital city of Villette and find work as a teacher at Madame Beck’s boarding school for girls, she thrives but at heart is unsure and uncertain of herself.

Suffice to say Lucy is in love with Dr. John the handsome English doctor but he barely notices her because of his love for Ginevra, a flirty 17 year old tease.

However Dr. John discovers Ginevra’s unworthiness when she insults his mother he becomes close friends with Lucy, probably her only friend she opines.

We meet Polly or Paulina Home de Bassompierre as she is now known once again when Dr. Bretton  saves her from being trampled at the theatre one night. The two fall in love and eventually marry which leaves Lucy seemingly more unstable.

At the same time Lucy starts to see a shadowy nun in the attic who may be the ghost of a nun buried alive on the grounds for breaking her vows, however she later finds it to be the disguise of Ginevra’s lover.

Lucy finds eventually love with the fiery schoolmaster Paul Emanuel much to the chargrin of Madame Beck, local priest Père Silas and the relatives of Paul’s long-dead fiancée. Paul has to depart for the West Indies to oversee his plantation there but not before declaring his love for Lucy and arranges for her to live as the headmistress of her own day school.

Lucy Snowe is a dark character with many flaws but it is just that and they superb acting that make this well worth hearing.