BBC Radio 7, 10-17 May 2009
Alice Walker's celebrated chronicle of a young woman, Celie (Nadine Marshall) growing up in America's Deep South during the mid-1930s, had already been filmed to great acclaim. In this radio version the narrative unfolded in a continuous present, as Celia told listeners in confessional style about her life; her rought upbringing, her rape at fourteen years old by her father; her unwanted marriage to a God-fearing yet violent man; the banishment of her sister Nettie; and her eventual discovery of a fulfilling same-sex relationship with Shug who, although far more successful than Celie, is nonetheless equally starved of companionship.
Alice Walker tells a familiar tale; what makes it so memorable is her style that captures the experiences of a young African-American girl dismissed as unintelligent by her male peers yet retaining her integrity nonetheless. She does not ask for sympathy, but rather recounts her autobiography in a calm, unhurried manner, acknowledging her faults yet celebrating her victories, however insignificant or hard-won they might be. The Color Purple avoids emotional extremes of the kind associated with (male-oriented) melodrama, as it tells its story of emotional self-discovery.
Pat Kumper's radio version kept close to Walker's text delivered direct to the microphone by Marshall. However the narrative appeared somewhat rushed, with incident piling upon incident, leading to a climax at the end of each fifteen-minute segment. I do not blame Kumper for this; clearly the demands of radio took precedence. But it did seem that Walker's text had been deprived of some of its leisurely, reflective quality, as Celie looks dispassionately on her life and tries to make sense of it. Nonetheless the adaptation emphasized how close female bonding can be, enhoying a proximity and an unspokenness that seldom surfaces in most male/female relationships.