BBC Radio 7, 20 June 2009
This fast-paced version of Stevenson's unfinished novel crammed a family melodrama, a love-story, betrayal, loyalty and adventure into a breathless ninety-minute package. The hero Archie (Forbes Mannion) has a bone to pick with his father (Tom Watson), a sadistic High Court judge who sentences two prisoners to hang without permitting them to appeal. Despite Archie's protests, his father issues his judgement, believing that his son is nothing more than a callow university student with little or no experience of the world. Stung by his father's criticisms, Archie volunteers to become the laird of Hermiston, a remote Highland settlement, in the hope of proving himself.
Once there, Archie becomes attracted to the village girl Christina (aka Kirsty) (Wendy Seeger), who remains stand-offish at first, in the quite understandable belief that commoners do not mix with aristocrats. Archie finds solace in his school chum Innes (Liam Brennan), who claims to know Archie through and through, while warning about the potentially damaging consequences of fallingf in love with Kirsty. However Innes takes advantage of Archie's naivété, and forces himself upon Kirsty; incensed by this act of treachery, Archie batters his school chum to death. Convicted of murder, Archie is now in the position faced by the criminals at the beginning of the story. However all ends happily, as Archie is sprited away from prison by the villagers, and begins a new life in the New World with Kirsty at his side.
Robert Forrest's radio version of the tale was complicated by the narrator's (Paul Young's) intrusive presence. Although ostensibly telling the story, many of his comments suggested that he fancied Kirsty himself, and resented the fact that Archie had got there first. When Archie ended up in prison, the narrator sounded ecstatic; now he could have the girl all to himself. However the villagers conspired to frustrate him by arranging for Archie's escape. It seemed that the narrator had lost control of his material; while ostensibly sympathizing with his hero as someone who couldn't be blamed for his dreams, the narrator failed to understand that Archie had in fact achieved his dreams. Not only did he manage to escape from prison, but he escaped the narrator's and his father's clutches.
This postmodern approach to Stevenson's tale reminded us of the extent to which people envy those fortunate enough to lead adventurous lives. Characters like the narrator yearn so much for a piece of the action that they are prepared to be ruthless in their quest to find it. It was testament to Archie's strength of character that he successfully overcame such obstacles. The director of this adaptation was Patrick Rayner.