Subtle start to the Tightwad chronicles

Only one thing outnumbered the multitude of Forsytes we had to keep track of during the first two episodes of Radio 4's 23-part dramatisation of John Galsworthy's Forsyte Chronicles (Saturday, repeated Friday). That was the frequency with which their reverence for money and property was hammered home.

It's true that Galsworthy himself wasn't exactly light-handed about that aspect of the family - partly based on his own - whose activities and affairs (of all kinds) eventually filled nine novels and covered nearly half a century. But it did obtrude rather in a production which, in view of the complexities of introducing us to such a large tribe, has managed to be fairly subtle.

Some of the complications of scene-setting have been reduced by the welcome use of Dirk Bogarde in the role of John Galsworthy himself as a narrator. I didn't recognise Bogarde's voice right away, which leads me to suppose that he's approaching Galsworthy as a very definite "part". But Sir Michael Hordern remains his wonderful, gently ironic self as Old Jolyon, the most likeable of all the Old Forsytes.

The tragic central theme thus far, of course, is the ill-starred marriage between Old Jolyon's nephew Soames (Alan Howard) and Irene (Diana Quick). To Soames, the most materialistic of the entire clan, Irene is a possession. Irene, who married against her better judgment anyway, is not to be possessed. Inevitably, she falls in love with the man who's designing a house for Soames, the arrogant and unconventional Bosinney, known to the Forsytes as "The Buccaneer", and detested by most of them from the moment they first clap eyes on him simply for wearing the wrong sort of hat.

The story, adroitly told, has just taken us to the point where the ugly truth is beginning to dawn, and Soames's even uglier reaction starting to take shape. If this is Radio 4's bid for the ratings, I think they stand a good chance.

Peter Clayton

Sunday Telegraph, 7.10.1990.