BBC Radio 7, 21-25 June 2010
Adapted in five bitesize fifteen-minute episodes, this version of Orwell's
classic read by Bill Nighy focused on major episodes, such as the building and destruction of the windmill, Snowball's
expulsion from the farm and the gradual rise to power of Napoleon with the help of the dogs whom he had plucked from their
mother at birth and trained to become his personal bodyguards. There was a frightening inevitability about what happened:
once the animals assumed control of Manor Farm, they were ripe for exploitation by opportunists like Napoleon, who cleverly
exploited their gullibility with (empty) promises of untold wealth and riches.
Orwell's fable was deliberately aimed at the Stalinist regime prevailing in the Soviet
Union after the end of World War II. Boxer the workaholic horse was a reincarnation of Stakhanov, the legendary mine-worker
held up as a paragon of virtue for his limitless capacity for hard work, and subsequently cast aside like a piece of litter
once his powers had expired.
In Bill Nighy's reading of the story, the ironies were evident. Each episode was
introduced by him singing the anthem 'Beasts of England' - emphasizing the farm's commitment to patriotism and national unity.
However Napoleon's actions had precisely the opposite intention; to promote discord and dissension, despite Squealer's
best efforts to present them in a favourable light. Nighy spoke in a calm, almost dispassionate tine, as if what he was saying
was the most normal thing in the world. In truth this made Orwell's narrative seem even more sinister: if the abnomal
was presented as normal, then Napoleon could quite literally get away with murder.
The story's ending was narrated in an almost as if it were an epiphany;
the supreme culmination of what the animals had been striving for all these years. It was only when we stood back and
reflected for a moment that we understood how Napoleon had brought the story back full circle; now he and his fellow pigs
were acting just like the hated human beings who had originally exerted such tyranny over the animals. Perhaps the ideal of
total equality is just thst - an ideal: inevitably one group of people (or animals) will assume mastery over others.