Emile Zola – Blood, Sex & Money: Naturalism, Narrative & Adaptation

Research output: Non-textual formPerformance


Blood, Sex & Money was an adaptation of Emile Zola’s ‘Rougon-Macquart’ series, 20 novels written between 1870 and 1893 that follows all the branches of a single family over several generations through the nineteenth century. The adaptation was the largest and most ambitious that Radio 4 had ever attempted, comprising 25 hours of radio and 27 individual episodes organised in three seasons (themed around Blood, Sex & Money). The seasons were broadcast six months apart between November 2015 and October 2016. I was centrally involved in getting the project commissioned. I made the suggestion to my producer that we might do a Zola season and pushed that we be ambitious and pitch to do all 20 books. BBC Salford had been interested in a large-scale Zola season already but had been unable to get it commissioned.My role:When my producer’s independent company joined up with Salford, BBC Scotland was also brought in. I met with producers from Salford and Scotland (and my own producer) on 14 November 2013 to think about how to pitch the project. I was the only writer in the room at that stage of the project.I suggested the shape of the project – three thematic seasons called Blood, Sex & Money, the books ‘mashed up’, even the actual distribution of the books – at that meeting and wrote that up in two documents (see Appendices A & B) which were the basis for the pitch to the Drama Commissioner and on which the project was approved and on which the three seasons were organised.I wrote the ‘Bible’ for the whole series. I was lead writer on series 1 and series 3; this meant writing the outlines for those weeks Appendix D & E), ordering and arranging the books, making suggestions for dramaturgical approach, making sure the stories flowed into one an other, and that there was a satisfying and complete arc to each week.I was part of several creative meetings at the BBC about the project (November 2013, July 2014, 8 September, January 2015, Salford; April 2015, conference call; July 2015, Glasgow; November 2015, London; December 2015, conference call; January 2016, London).I wrote seven episodes of the final project, including the opening and closing episodes, and all the episodes in which Glenda Jackson was a protagonist (not just narrator), amounting to 7 hours of radio in all. Most episodes went through 3-4 drafts.I commented on drafts of all 27 episodes and helped shape the tone and style of the whole project. In the case of episode 3.7, I proposed that we invent a story to fill a gap in Zola’s narrative about the origins of the Franco-Prussian war and I supplied the writer, Olly Emanuel, with historical material to guide him.I was present at the recording of all my episodes (except 3.9, which was recorded two weeks after our baby was born) which is important for a writer to be able to help shape the performances, rhythm and feel of each episode.Evidence of the value of the project:The project was widely covered beforehand. I’ve got a page on my website with all the previews I noted here: http://www.danrebellato.co.uk/news/2015/11/12/glenda-jackson-zolaThe project was very well received:•Gillian Reynolds in The Telegraph gave us this review: 'unmissable radio ... Nowhere else in the world is radio drama as good as this'.•We were on Radio 4’s Pick of the Week on Sunday 22 November and they played a good long clip from my episode 1 (and another clip from Pauline Harris and Glenda Jackson's documentary).•It was featured approvingly on Feedback (4.11.15) with a lot of listeners saying it was good (though someone, incredibly, complained about Northern accents).•There was a good piece in the Spectator, mainly praising Glenda and another good piece in the Telegraph, really about Zola but with some lovely asides about the adaptations.•There's a review of Listen-in-the-Dark event that Polly and I went to at Cardiff University.•We were in the Telegraph's 5 Best Radio Moments of the Year.•More recently, Lyn Gardner said theatre could learn from radio and cited the Zola project (and mentioned me) https://www.theguardian.com/stage/theatreblog/2017/feb/02/radio-drama-talent-playwright-bbc-audio-drama-awards•Animals was chosen as Drama of the Week on the BBC Podcast.•Animals won Best Drama Production at the 2016 BBC Radio Drama Awards and was nominated for an ARIA (successor to the Sony Awards). The whole project won Best Adaptation at the BBC Audio Drama Awards 2017.•2016 Judges comment: ‘The judges said this was a gripping, entertaining piece of drama which conveyed the turbulent times of the Second Empire through the personal lives of its players. It was wonderfully well paced and varied, setting the tragic alongside the comic, interweaving the heroic with the grotesque and the pathetic.’•2017 Judges comment: ‘a gripping psychological thriller set in a pulsating, menacing soundscape that made us want to keep listening. Emile Zola: Blood, Sex & Money is an ambitious, innovative adaptation that captures the world of the Rougon-Macquart novels that incisively dissect the world of 19th century France.’Jeremy Howe, the drama commissioner for Radio 4, has referred to it repeatedly as a ‘game-changing’ adaptation and annoys everyone else by saying he’s looking for the next ‘Zola’, by which he means a big, ambitious, innovative drama series. I think I could probably find a way of getting a statement from him about it.Explanatory activities:What stuff have I done around this that might add context or explanation of the choices made (and therefore its ‘research’ value)?There are two interviews with me on the BBC website about adapting Zola: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04cqhnqhttp://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p037rjrkI wrote two articles for the BBC website.•A short piece looking at seven of his political, artistic and literary battles, from Manet to 'J'Accuse...!'•Another – less Buzzfeedy – article.I’ve written fairly substantial pieces on my own website about the adaptations, most of them drawing on my own research into Zola and Naturalism.•Episode 1.1 http://www.danrebellato.co.uk/zola-animals•Episode 1.2 http://www.danrebellato.co.uk/zola-fire•Episode 1.9 http://www.danrebellato.co.uk/zola-trains•Episode 2.3 http://www.danrebellato.co.uk/zola-family•Episode 2.4 http://www.danrebellato.co.uk/zola-lovesick•Episode 3.1 http://www.danrebellato.co.uk/zola-crash•Episode 3.9 http://www.danrebellato.co.uk/zola-ghostsThe ‘Animals’ essay (1.1) is perhaps the least research-intensive at the moment (the last paragraph or two give the strongest sense of the research elements) but I will probably expand it over the next couple of years. Some advice on what to include would be helpful.I’ve given a couple of seminar/conference papers about these adaptations:‘Blind Reading: Adapting Zola for Radio’ Society for French Studies Conference University of Cardiff, June 2015.‘Nothing to See Here’ Migrating Texts Senate House, London, November 2014.‘Zola: Blood, Sex & Money’ Panel Discussion, University of St Andrews, December 2015. And various papers related to my Naturalism research:‘What Happens When Nothing Happens? Thoughts on Theatre, History and Absence’ [keynote] Aesthetics of Absence Sorbonne [OVALE], June 2016.‘I’m Looking Through You: Second Thoughts on the Fourth Wall’ Alternative Victorians and Their Predecessors: New Directions in Nineteenth-Century Theatre and Performance Research Nineteenth-Century Theatre and Film & University of Warwick, May 2016. (earlier version at University of Dundee December 2015; later version at TaPRA, University of Bristol, September 2016).‘Naturalist Theatre and the Problem of Homosexuality’ London Theatre Seminar, October 2014 [also TaPRA Royal Holloway September 2015; University of Manchester November 2014; University of Edinburgh, February 2015; Sussex University, March 2015]'Naturalism & Necrophilia' IFTR/FIRT, University of Warwick, July 2014.'Is the theatre a zombie?' Quorum, Queen Mary, University of London, February 2014. (Also TaPRA, University of Glasgow, September 2013)Including, I guess, my inaugural:‘Theatre, Sex, and Zombies: The Strange Case of the Naturalist Stage’ Royal Holloway, February 2014.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationBBC Radio 4
PublisherBBC Radio 4
Media of outputRadio broadcast
Size27 episodes
Publication statusPublished - 21 Nov 2015

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