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What do you do when your conscience comes calling? Review: An Inspector Calls.


I approached the BBC1’s adaptation of JB Priestley’s haunting drama An Inspector Calls with some trepidation. It is well trodden territory for TV and radio producers and the text studied by pretty much every schoolchild in Britain.

However, the assured performances of Ken Stott, Miranda Richardson and David Thewlis soon had me hooked. It’s so long since I have read the play that I couldn’t make any comment upon accuracy, which I suspect was a blessing.

All the twists and turns were there and the clever clues that make Priestley’s work a proper detective mystery. But what struck me most was the unnerving aptness of the story’s message. Priestley’s play, set in 1912, on the eve of the apocalyptic First World War, is an allegorical tale of the risks we run when we ignore our responsibility to others.

The Birling family are confronted with their own failings in respect to their treatment of a poor young woman, Eva Smith. The unpleasant realities of her predicaments are transported into the Birling’s comfortable drawing room by way of the mysterious and all-knowing Inspector Goole.

Thankfully, the production is subtle and doesn’t lay on the spookiness with a trowel. The real suspense and chills are caused by the powerful script itself. But what really lingers in the mind, long after the Inspector has gone, is the striking modern parallels.

In recent weeks, we have found the humanitarian crises of the wider world invading our own parlours. This production certainly made me consider how well I would fare if my conscience were to call uninvited.

The play is a classic, largely because the story is still relevant today.

The mark of a truly great piece of detective fiction.

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