Not including stage plays. Pride and Prejudice has been adapted nine times since the invention of film as a medium. Jane Eyre has been adapted twenty times not including foreign language versions. Wuthering Heights has twelve adaptations available. Great Expectations has been put to film ten times. While these classics are beloved for a reason that does not mean that there aren’t others that deserve recognition. From time to time British television takes a crack at making a lesser known classic, such as The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy, Cranford by Elisabeth Gaskell and Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson, with varying success. However, I do not think that this is a regular enough occurance. When it comes to adapting the classics, too often do networks fall back on the sure success, the tried and tested stories.
Precious Bane by Mary Webb is the story of Prue Sarn who is ‘hare-shotten,’ meaning she has a hare lip. Prue is a kind soul who works hard on her father’s farm which passes to her brother when their father dies. Though she is accepted by her farming community and has friends, she is still viewed with suspicion. When she begins her reading lessons with Beguildy, the local cunning man or ‘wizard,’ her education or ‘book larning’ creates an even bigger gulf between her and the other members of her community.
Enter Kester Woodseaves, who comes to replace the old weaver at a love-spinning (an antiquated tradition similar in some ways to a bridal shower). Prue falls in love with him instantly. He is kind, intelligent and completely different from the men she has grown up around. Believing herself to be too ugly to love, she avoids him as much as she can. When he butts heads with the townsfolk over stopping a bullfight, she ends up saving his life. After that he seeks her out to try and thank her. And so develops a very beautiful and touching love story. But as tragedy after tragedy befalls those she loves, people start to turn on Prue, thinking that her hare lip might have been caused by witchcraft after all.
She is one of the most likeable and sympathetic heroines in English Literature. Prue’s story is one of hope, love, community and loss. Its characters are well-developed. The language is beautifully lyrical. Mary Webb captured the feel of the English Countryside perfectly and uses regional dialects much like Wuthering Heights. It is an interesting look at women’s position and an insight into rural life.
Precious Bane has been adapted once before in 1989 with a very young Janet McTeer, John Bowe and Clive Owen. It is a very good production. However it was never released on VHS or DVD. It was available on Youtube but the picture and sound quality were not great. It has since been taken down. I only saw it because my mother had taped the original broadcast. I believe that The BBC does occasionally rerun it, but it should not be so difficult to see such a good story. There are many reviews of the production on IMDb; most complain about the unavailability of the DVD so there is clearly an audience.
So I believe that it is either time for a remake or a fully re-mastered DVD release, hopefully with special features. Failing that, I urge you to read the book which is available here. It is truly a lovely story that fans of Bronte and Hardy will love.
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