Radio review: Pilgrim

Poor William Palmer
has a long road to walk

Currently 4Extra is broadcasting all the series of my favourite radio drama on the iplayer, Pilgrim written by Sebastian Baczkiewicz.  The series was nominated for a Prix Italia and won a silver Pix Europe with the actors involved also receiving nominations from the BBC.

The seasons make up part of the story of William Palmer who was cursed by the king of the grey folk for denying their existence, to live forever.  Palmer, also known to the grey folk as Pilgrim, now arbitrates between the modern world, the grey folk and all the supernatural beings which swirl between.  As ever with something I’m enthusiastic about on the radio it is partly to do with the medium itself.  The intimacy of radio is very seductive.

Baczkiewicz weaves a believable and atmospheric dark fantasy world where the legends of old England intruding on the lives of extremely normal modern inhabitants.   Baczkiewicz does not overly rely  on the well known supernatural monsters such as werewolves, which can create an overblown and predictable tale but delves deep into folklore.  Soon a thorn bush, a forest, the ringing of a church bell can all be sinister to the listener.  In fact when he does delve into a monster trope the results are not what we have come to expect.  It is the juxtaposition of the spectacular with the mundane which makes Baczkiewicz’s world so absorbing, always balancing precariously between horror and the everyday.

Ultimately though the tone of Pilgrim is one of weariness, as we see these fantastical and horrific events through the eyes of Palmer, who searches for a way to end his life.  While retaining his compassion, Palmer has also become detached, zen-like to the inevitability of conflict between the two separate worlds ever intruding on each other and his role in trying to limit the damage.  The listener wants Pilgrim to find the release that he desperate seeks, but also want to find out more about the intriguing world who’s surface has only just been scratched.  The listener pivots between these two desires as Palmer himself pivots between the two worlds he inhabits.

If you only listen to one radio drama series this year I would recommend this one.  If you are a fan of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell, this is a series that will help the long wait for Susanna Clerks’ sequel.


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