BBC Radio 7, 31 August 2009
Shots of the rolling English countryside, a black horse roaming free and alone to the accompaniment of a tuba and heavenly choirs. These memorable images of the opening sequence of the ITV drama The Adventures of Black Beauty linger on in the mind of anyone old enough to remember the teatime series. I well remember a comic reference to the series in the comedy Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, where two of the lovers indulged in weird sex games while listening to the theme-tune.
Liz Webb's production cast such associations aside, and presented Sewell's story from Black Beauty's (Adam Godley's) point of view. Like his fellow hourse, Beauty strove to make a life for himself in a world where human beings remained largely indifferent to animals. Horses were useful so long as they could do menial tasks, but they could be cast aside like old shoes once they had outlived their usefulness. The animals had to observe strict behavioural standards; if they were 'naughty' (a catch-all term encompassing everything from outright rebellion to laziness), they were equally likely to be pensioned off.
The action unfolded as a series of discrete episodes, charting Beauty's rise and fall from valued family pet into a beast of burden, suitable only for the knacker's yard. Beauty himself remained phlosophical throughout; unable to mount any effective resistance, he accepted his fate with stoic resignation rather like Boxer in Animal Farm. However Anna Sewell is not interested in allegory; rather she exposes human indifference while admiring Beauty for his nobility. If a moral does exist, it is perhaps to show how we should hold our heads up high, even in the most adverse circumstances. At the end of this adaptatiom Beauty earned his just reward, as he was rescued by kindly owner Joe Green (Stewart McLoughlin) and given the freedom to run wild once again. Now he could savour once again the privileges given to the Beauty of the fondly remembered television series.