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TV Jamaica Inn: BBC adaptation of classic looks great but is dragged down by mumbling

Thhhhe BBBB shdddd a nnn vuhn o Jimmmcu Uun lssss wk. Sorry. Let's try that again with subtitles.

The BBC showed a new version of Jamaica Inn during the week (BBC One, Monday to Wednesday) but it was quite hard to understand.

The official explanation was that were "technical issues" but the real problem was the mmmbbbling.

Quite how it was allowed to go out in that state I have no idea. Why did no-one question it? Why did no-one say: "Hang on, it looks great but I can't understand a single word the innkeeper is saying?" Are we so obsessed with how something looks now that the words are irrelevant?

As it happens, it did look wonderful: a dark, disturbing swirl of muck, mud, smoke and mist - and blood - and there were two rather beautiful lead actors too.

It is set in Cornwall of course but this was the British coastline as anything but a shiny, happy place - it was frightening and brutal and empty. It was probably how Daphne Du Maurier saw the story in her head.

And in this version you could also see the reason the story became a ­classic. It's because it has the same set-up as Kidnapped and Dracula and a hundred other stories about an innocent arriving at a place that isn't innocent.

It explores what happens next: does the person change the place or does the place change the person? In the case of Du Maurier's heroine, there is a danger she will become corrupted by a world of smuggling and murder but there is also a chance she might pull free and purify.

All of this was explored with a mostly strong cast - especially Jessica Brown Findlay as Mary - and a sensible, solid, nicely balanced script ruined by the fatal flaw of not being able to ­understand one of the main characters: Joss Merlyn, played by Sean ­Harris.

After about 10 minutes of the first episode and a bit of adjusting of the volume, I realised what the problem was and switched on the subtitles, like most of the rest of the audience.

I also realised what a pity it was that the programme had such a fundamental problem because, in every other respect, Jamaica Inn represents a promising development at the BBC, a kind of reverse advance.

For most of its life until the early 1990s, the BBC regularly produced versions of classic novels and stories - in the 1970s and 1980s, it was on Sunday afternoons in the wonderful series produced by Barry Letts - but the classic is now an irregular treat.

Perhaps Jamaica Inn could signal a new direction; perhaps the BBC could make a public commitment to regular classics on television alongside its recent promise of more arts coverage.

Maybe they have realised the old stories aren't dull and old-fashioned - in fact, the classics are classics because they are about themes that don't get old. The characters may be dressed in bonnets or top hats, but what they are feeling and experiencing is what we are still feeling and experiencing.

In the case of Mary, it was the urge to do the right thing and the old dilemma of honesty versus loyalty but sadly this version of Mary was doomed: corrupted and dragged down by smugglin and mmmblin.

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