We don’t live alone on this earth, we are responsible for each other.
On Sunday evening, the BBC screened their adaptation of J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls.
I’d been looking forward to this for months, after seeing some of the outside scenes being shot in the beautiful World Heritage Site of Saltaire, which I’m lucky enough to live nearby.
I have to admit that having never read the play, I wasn’t familiar with the story before watching this adaptation, but for once, I’m actually glad that it was completely new to me as the twist in the story is fantastic.
We spend the evening with the Birling family, as an inspector questions them about the suicide of a young woman. The inspector however, already knows everything he needs to, and sets out to get the family to reveal how this young girl’s life became intertwined with every one of them, without them realising, from infidelity and jealousy, to stealing. This results in the break-down of this tight-knit family, and as each member reveals their secret, they each become distanced from each other in front of our eyes, a parallel to the loneliness of Eva Smith, our tragic victim.
Despite most of the action taking place in one room, the adaptation succeeds in gripping the audience, almost as though we’re in the room with them. David Thewlis does a particularly good job as eerie Inspector Goole (appropriately named) whose calm manner and ways of questioning the family add to the unsettled atmosphere.
As the inspector departs, the family continue to argue amongst themselves, where the class divide portrayed here becomes even more evident. Whilst Miss Birling is distraught at potentially playing a part in the death of a young woman, Mr Birling’s concerns turn to the impact the evening’s events will have on his status.
The family then turn to questioning the behaviour of the inspector, who they realise was not concerned with collecting statements from them, but whose purpose seems only to have been to disrupt the family. This prompts Miss Birling to comment, ‘I thought he was extraordinary, it was as though he could see into our souls’, summing up the eerie atmosphere caused by the inspector’s presence.
Almost as a way to redeem themselves from the evening’s frightful revelations, the Birling’s concoct the theory that this is a hoax, that the inspector has somehow discovered details of each of their lives and combined the 5 different tales into one. A little investigation confirms their suspicion, and despite the fact that they have all revealed shocking truths, they celebrate their freedom for any implications in this girl’s death, which is cleverly contrasted in the programme with the loneliness of the girl. The family has momentarily been brought together once again, whilst the solitary girl leaves her home to end her life.
As a viewer we are led more and more to dislike the Birling’s, the ‘upper’ class, and genuinely feel for the lonely, hopeless former mill worker, especially as when asked if she believes in God she comments:
I can’t believe in people, I have to believe in something
This, and the quote I opened the post with, I feel, sum up the main issues in An Inspector Calls. A girl that has literally nothing is denied support from people at every turn because of class difference; and as the inspector so cleverly shows us, we are each responsible for others, and our actions affect others’ lives, whether within our own families or outside of them.
I’ve probably already given too many spoilers away, so I don’t want to go into too many details about the ending, but all I’ll say is it will leave you with many questions, theories, and a shiver down your spine.