BBC Radio 4, 16 December 2011
Someone in Radio 4's scheduling department must have been attuned
to current events. Beyond Borders told the story of the creation in 1950 of the organization that would later
become the European Union. The chief architect of the scheme was Jean Monnet (Timothy West), who gathered a small group at
his cottage outside Paris to create a plan to bring the coal industries of France and Germany together. After several drafts,
they produced a 140-word memo which formed the basis for the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community. Great
Britain were invited to join, but declined, once they learned that Monnet and his group of politicians were refusing
to treat them as a special case. Monnet observed that Britain seemed more interested in forming an alliance with the
United States, or working with Australia and New Zealand, even though both countries were several thousand miles away. Although these events took place sixty-one years ago, they have particular
significance at a time when Britain has refused to enter into an EU-sponsored rescue plan; the only country out of the 27
members not to agree to it.
Mike Walker structured Beyond Borders as a quest-narrative, paying tribute
to Monnet's skill as a negotiator. Initially it seemed as if his dream of a united states of Europe was going to be frustrated,
but through a combination of quiet determination and sheer bloody-mindedness, he achieved his aim. He was greatly helped in
his task by his wife Sylvia (Lesley Manville), who although not directly involved in the negotiations, provided him with both
moral and emotional support.
Although Monnet was the main character in the play, the narrative itself was recounted
from multiple perspectives, including those of Sylvia, as well as Monnet's colleagues Etienne Hirsch (Daniel Weyman)
and Paul Reuter (Philip Jackson). By such means Walker emphasized the importance of collaboration: Monnet could not have achieved
his aim without the help of his team.
Walker also showed how the domestic and the political were inextricable: Monnet's
team worked at his cottage, rather than in an office, and conducted most of their negotiations in the garden, over meals,
or in the living-room. This decision was a sound one: the team could pursue their task without being interrupted
by politicians. Sylvia Monnet also assumed an important role - as well as preparing meals and looking after the team, she
offered a refreshingly pragmatic opinion on many of their negotiations. The plan was not just an economic one; its main aim
was to transform the make-up of Europe, and thus had to be understandable to everyone, not just bureaucrats. Sylvia's opinions
made sure that this was borne in mind.
In the end the document was finally created and approved by the French and German
governments. Monnet emerged triumphant, despising those who wanted to impede its progress - for example, the British government
- by conducting "talks about talks," as he put it.
Beyond Borders was an inspiring tale of dedication to a cause. I only wish
that today's politicians - both in Britain and elsewhere - could learn from Monnet's example, as they try to determine the
fate of Europe in troubled times.
** This play drew a considerable amount of comment in the press: which I had
not seen when I wrote this review. For links, see below.