written by Sebastian Baczkiewicz, directed/produced by Marc Beeby and Jessica Dromgoole
Of all the tales told on these islands, few are as strange as that of William Palmer. Cursed, apparently, on the road to Canterbury in the spring of 1185 for denying the presence of the other world by the king of the grey folk – or Fairy – himself, and compelled to walk from that day to this between the worlds of magic and of men, and subsequently known in all the strange and wonderful lore attributed to the mysterious William Palmer, as Pilgrim.
This week saw the broadcast on BBC Radio 4 of the seventh and final series of Pilgrim – fantasy productions in a contemporary setting with magic and grey folk and all manner of surprises and horrors. I’ve listened to every episode, having been captured by the challenging and innovative nature of these dramas from the outset. While the seven series form a single story arc, in truth you can pick up and enjoy any one of these episodes as a standalone. Expect the unexpected, and be prepared to squirm now and then. I found “the drownings” of series 2 particularly disturbing.
Baczkiewicz has a distinctive dialogue style. Often dark, conversations can also be humorous, with characters’ dialogue interweaving and being misconstrued while the writer skilfully maintains the progression of the story. He also has a lot of fun with names, such as Mr Rabbetsenhats (He’s a rabbits-in-a-hat kind of a magician.), Mrs Wellbeloved and Mr Hibbens (It rhymes with ribbons./I know what it bloody rhymes with!).
While every member of the cast excels, the highlight is undoubtedly Paul Hilton who plays William Palmer himself. A tremendous acting talent, Hilton admirably conveys the lead character’s complexity and torment. There’s no finer example than Palmer’s cameo appearance in Home Front, for which Baczkiewicz is also a core writer. When Jessie asks Will you find your way in the dark? his single word reply of Always. is delivered in such a way that it perfectly encapsulates Palmer’s weariness with the arduous nature of his cursed existence. There’s also a quality to Hilton’s voice that’s perfect for this role, a familiarity, warmth and depth that makes Palmer disarming and convivial, but which can in a moment become menacing.
Every production is unsurprisingly flawless, and the fact that the perfect theme music starts a few minutes into each episode, followed by the eerie legend at the beginning of this post, read by Agnes Bateman, gives Pilgrim a particularly modern feel. Pilgrim has been inspiring to me as a wanna-be writer of radio drama, demonstrating potential demand for the weird and somewhat left-field writing that appeals to me most, and that BBC radio drama is prepared to push boundaries and broadcast uncompromising material. I cannot recommend Pilgrim highly enough for anyone with an interest in quality drama whatever its medium. All seven series are available to buy on CD or download, and a “Pilgrim Special” is in the pipeline.
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