Moonfleet aired last night on Sky TV, the first of a new two part version of this classic smuggling story, written by Ashley Pharoah, best known for the brilliantly conceived time-travel cop show Life on Mars. With Ray Winstone his usual commanding self as pub landlord and contraband king Elzevir Block, it was a very entertaining show indeed. There's a suitably nasty magistrate, a forbidden love affair between the bad guy's lovely daughter and the courageous young hero, and plenty of dramatic action. You'd think it was based on a story written by Robert Louis Stevenson - but it wasn't.
I first read - and much enjoyed - Moonfleet years ago, and I'd like to say a little about its author. J. Meade Falkner (1858-1932) was an Oxford-educated teacher who went into business, travelling the world and making a good deal of money before settling in Durham and devoting himself to a variety of leisure pursuits, including the study of ancient manuscripts.
Perhaps because he seems to have packed so much else into his life, Falkner was a far from prolific writer, though he did range from verse and fiction to writing topographical guides. Although Moonfleet is by far his most famous book, The Lost Stradivarius is a notable ghost story. I don't know if Falkner and M.R. James were acquainted, but I'd like to think so. And then there is The Nebuly Coat, a really good Edwardian novel whose neglect I find baffling. Fellow Golden Age fans might like to know that it's said to have been an influence on Dorothy L. Sayers' The Nine Tailors.
One of the most memorable scenes in Moonfleet - done very well in this version - is the candle auction. Candle auctions can be legally valid, and still take place occasionally - I recall once reading a learned article about them in The Law Society's Gazette. Falkner uses this and other plot devices to great effect and I felt that Ashley Pharoah made very good use of the excellent material. One of the best shows of Christmas.