BBC2 last week broadcast a one hour documentary on the life and works of novelist Muriel Spark: The Many Primes of Muriel Spark. This was originally transmitted in January on BBC Scotland to mark Spark’s centenary. The program was presented by Kristy Wark and filmed, produced and directed by Morag Tinto for BBC Studios: Pacific Quay Productions. The film was mostly interviews of living writers who shared their views of Spark’s work along with numerous clips from BBC interviews of Spark herself dating back to a 1961 b&w program about the Brontës. These were interspersed with appearances and commentary by Wark as described in the BBC program notes:
Kirsty retraces Muriel’s footsteps from the cobbled streets of Edinburgh to the sublime beauty of Victoria Falls. Contributions from writers AL Kennedy, Janice Galloway, Ali Smith, William Boyd and Val McDermid tell of Muriel Spark’s unique literary style and a life full of reinvention.
Kirsty meets with the journalist Alan Taylor, who has recently published his memoir of Muriel, and she travels to Italy for the first television interview with Penelope Jardine, Muriel’s close friend of 40 years
Although the program discusses the relatively late beginning of Spark’s career as a writer and her conversion to Roman Catholicism, it does not mention her early support by Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene. There is also a fairly extended description of Spark’s mental breakdown just before her first novel The Comforters (1957) was written and her own description of it and how she wrote about it; but there is no mention of similarities with Waugh’s nearly contemporaneous breakdown and its description in his novel The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957). More surprising is the failure to mention or interview Waugh’s biographer Martin Stannard who spent several (sometimes frustrating) years writing Spark’s official biography which was published in 2009 after her death in 2006.
Aside from these omissions, the program is very well done. The editing is excellent, and it moves chronologically through Spark’s rather complicated early life, concluding in Italy where Penelope Jardine is interviewed. The program is available to stream on BBC iPlayer for 25 days. A UK internet connection is required.