BBC Radio 3, 28 February 2010
Published anonymously in March 1878, La Princesse de Cleves can be said to be one of the first psychological novels, turning away from the romantic tradition popular at that time, and focusing instead on a highly realistic plot with extensive analysis of the characters' thoughts and emotions. The novel still has significance today; last year (2009), it became a symbol of opposition in France to President Sarkozy's restructuring of the education system. He had declared that it was so old-fashioned that the Civil Service entrance examinations still included questions on La Princesse de Cleves. His comments were interpreted as evidence of his preoccupation with the realities of business at the expense of so-called 'frivolous' subjects like literature. As a result, public readings of the novel were held around the country.
In this playful adaptation, action retraced the misadventures of La Princesse (Melody Grove) who becomes involved in matters of love following the death of her mother (Candida Benson). The Princesse is soon courted by lots of eligible young men and becomes the fiancée of Cleves, a quiet, studious person (Liam Brennan). But soon she falls overwhelmingly in love with the hedonistic Nemours (Robin Laing). But their passion is doomed as the Princesse, not wishing to surrender to her feelings, refuses to give in to happiness, which in her eyes is just an illusion.
Wittily focusing on the conflicts between love and duty of a fundamentally good person at the mercy of often immoral male characters, La Princesse de Cleves made some good points about the difficulties still facing young women forced to fend for themselves in a culture where outward show is everything. The director was Kirsty Williams.