"He's cold, arrogant and slightly cruel, but in the end I see him as a tragic figure," says Alan Howard of Soames Forsyte, the 'man of property' he plays throughout The Forsyte Chronicles. Like so many of the Forsytes, Soames is obsessed with the material world - "Even his wife and children are seen as his possessions," says Howard. And it is his attempted possession of his first wife Irene (played by Diana Quick) that will cause the rift which blights the Forsytes for generations.
Howard believes that Soames is bewildered by Irene's rejection of him: "He has done everything that he regards as right, but he seems to lack any kind of emotional development. The birth of his daughter Fleur (Amanda Redman) later in life will certainly change him but, though there is a redemptive quality here, he's also ruining her."
Soames has to age from his 30s to his 70s during the series and, unlike the transfigured Eric Porter in the famous TV version in the 60s, Howard must suggest the aging process with his voice alone. "But voices don't usually change that much in maturity," he says. "Timbre and method of speaking stay the same. It's what's behind the voice that changes - wisdom, gravitas. That's what I've tried to suggest." The radio adaptation has John Galsworthy, author of the nine Forsyte books, as the narrator - played by Dirk Bogarde. And as Howard says, "Having a narrator allows you to set the scene."
Radio Times, 29.9.90.