BBC Radio 7, 13 August 2010
"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is one of those canonical works which literati claim to know intimately, but seldom have read. In Enyd Williams' fully dramatized rendering, complete with stirring music and nautical sound effects, Coleridge's poem was transformed into an aural disaster epic, with the mariner's (John Nettles') act of killing the albatross precipating a series of mishaps culminating in the death of all his fellow crew-members save himself. Eventually he has to pay for his act of transgression with death, but only after considerable suffering; a purgatorial process, perhaps, to cleanse him.
The poem also represents Coleridge's own act of personal suffering caused by opium addiction; the mariner's act of transgression parallels his own, as he takes a forbidden drug. "The Rime" might be about physical travel and wandering, as the mariner travels the seas in a ship without a rudder, but it is also about mental struggle. Coleridge also emphasizes the inevitability of human destiny; try as one might, one cannot escape paying for one's actions. As ye sow, so shall ye reap, as the proverb tells us.
Nettles had a fine old time as the mariner, delivering his lines with a slight west-country burr (recalling his accent in the old television series Bergerac). He was complemented in his vocal performance by Philip Madoc as the narrator, in wonderful barnstorming mode as he declaimed forth the inevitable course of the action. With his soft Welsh vowels and careful emphasis on hard-sounding consonants, he resembled the voice of doom.