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The Moonstone: From classic novel to BBC drama

The Moonstone is a five-part BBC serial, adapted by Rachel Flowerday and Sasha Hails, who co-wrote every episode. Based on the infamous book by Willkie Collins, the serial is aimed at a younger audience as part of the BBC’s #lovetoread season, but is still a great watch for literary lovers of all ages.

The Moonstone follows the adventurous Franklin Blake, who attempts to solve the mystery of the disappearance of the priceless Moonstone and reunite with his love Rachel Verinder. The novel was iconic in starting a new genre – the detective novel – and it is great to see such an influential novel being adapted so well.

The Victorian mystery is filled with intrigue and suspense throughout the first episode, with Gabriel Betteredge (Leo Wringer) – the retainer of the Verinder family – telling the story from his perspective.

In the first episode a sense of eeriness prevails. The serial is filled with sidelong shots of peculiar characters and scenes shot at night time, and only candles light the character’s faces, helping the ominous atmosphere and increasing the tension.

The serial was filmed on location and there are many sweeping, panoramic shots of the beach and moorland, contrasting with the stuffiness of the Victorian Yorkshire house that the characters all occupy. The tension surrounding the diamond – the Moonstone – drives the episode towards its cliff-hanger in which it has disappeared.

Having an all-female core team of writers, director (Lisa Mulcahy) and producer (Joanna Hanley) has resulted in well-written and rounded characters, not diminished from Collin’s original novel. The novel itself remains a commentary on colonialism, religion and the position of women in society and all of these themes come through. The diamond that is given to Rachel (Terenia Edwards) has clearly been obtained through corrupt, imperialistic methods, and the production does not shy away from acknowledging the entrenched colonialism of the Victorian era, with the presence of juggling Indian dancers creating a stark contrast with the reserved Verinder family.

The 18th birthday party of Rachel highlights the struggles of  Victorian women, demonstrated by constant attempts of marriage proposal from Godfrey Ablewhite (Stewart Clarke). With Rachel being unable to rebuff these herself, they are instead prevented by circumstances controlled by the men of the household.

The serial will not air once a week but instead the five episodes will run daily, keeping the sense of intrigue and mystery alive. The production is wholly effective in translating Collin’s beloved novel to the screen and making it accessible for all ages.

Image: Arpingstone

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