More Information about the Production
BBC Radio 4 Extra, 1-15 May 2011
Chris Wallis' adaptation of the 1956 novel treated the narrative as a rite-of-passage adventure involving the Balicki children, whose happy existence in Warsaw is blown to pieces by the Nazi invasion. Their parents are taken away, leaving the offspring to fend for themselves: Ruth (Sarah McDonald Hughes) becomes an unofficial teacher and protector; her brother Edek (Steven Hoyle) works as a smuggler until he himself is captured by the Nazis; while the younger ones have to learn how to keep silent to ensure their safety. Eventually the family embark on a hazardous journey, travelling from Poland to Switzerland in the belief that they will rejoin their parents. They are by no means certain what awaits them, if and when they arrive, but adapter Wallis emphasized their enduring optimism that kept them goig even during the darkest times.
The adaptation followed the book, save for the insertion of one sequence in the first episode, when Ivan (David Fleeshman) took the children, who needed shoes for the next stage of their journey, to a warehouse containing "a mountain of shoes," next to "a mountain of teeth" and "a mountain of spectacles" - gruesome relics of the concentration camp era. While the sequence gave the adaptation some sense of context, it seemed slightly incongruous in a story of heroism, symbolized by the silver sword. Wallis placed scant emphasis on the sword as a function of the plot (foregrounding the adventurous elements instead), but we were made aware of its perpetual presence, stored in a hand-crafted box of treasures carried by lonely waif Jan (Aqib Khan), who battened himself on to the family and helped them through their travails. With its shining blade and slightly chipped hilt - the result of a domestic mishap - the sword gave everyone hope.
Charlotte Riches' production was rich in sound-effects - at one point she recreated a daring escape sequence with the sound of running water overlaid with the rat-tat-tat of gunfire, forming a backdrop to the childrens' daring escape through Germany by canoe, in defiance of the burgomeister's (Jonathan Keeble's) orders, that would have sent them back to Poland. In another sequence Riches married the sounds of violins, birdsong and a barking dog to suggest an Alpine location, as well as optimism (the music suggested that all would be well, despite the childrens' fears).
The Silver Sword was a thoroughly entertaining piece that did not shy away from depicting the perils facing everyone - not just the children - during wartime, as they struggled to make ends meet while striving to avoid capture by the enemy. At the same time Riches stressed the importance of companionship: only by keeping together could the children support one another as well as fend successfully for themselves. Although reconciled to at the end, I did wonder whether they would be happy to submit themselves to their parents' authority, in the light of their previous experiences. But this is a matter of pure speculation.