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Pretty Vacant. - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
A Møøse once bit my sister ...
captainsblog
captainsblog
Pretty Vacant.
Before getting to the Main Event of this post, just some quick-hitter updates:

* Arthur the Cat went home with the kids last night. He's on meds that he is responding to well, and is eating and purring his brains out. They haven't ruled out long-term Bads, but getting him home and happy without surgery is a big step.

* Harold the Purple Foot is much less purple. My followup check is a week from tomorrow, but I've done more the past couple of days without the boot on; I still wear it round downtown courts and such, but routine round-the-house stuff seems more stable with just good sneakers.

* New glasses will be in next week; I did find the missing ones.

* And Albert the Bird is still hanging about; he decamps for hours at a time across the street, and I've caught him filing flight plans around two adjacent homes while we come and go.

Right. After taking almost nine weeks to read J.K. Rowling's first under-her-own-name novel for grownups and having trouble with much of it, I put in three hours over four gym afternoons/ pre-sleep evenings watching the BBC/HBO miniseries adaptation of Casual Vacancy. Unlike the Eight From Seven films in the Harry Potter series, which varied little at all from the books, the screenwriter (Sarah Phelps, late of Eastenders) performed major magic on the text to fit it into three hours, to play to the talents of the cast, and, yes, to make it rather better than Jo did.


The one retained aspect of the storyline is that virtually every living adult soul in the piece is an insufferable twat.  To each other, to their own spouses, and to their kids (whether of current teen age or not).  The Elder Mollisons, played by Michael Gambon himself and Julia McKenzie (the most recent incarnation of Miss Marple), are even more evil, manipulative and condescending than the novel casts them. The screenwriter does some serious shuffling of the scorecard, making another Evil Adult the half-brother of the most likable adult character in the whole piece- and then never really does much with that connection. She also changes the occasional name (shortening Tessa to Tess), drops my favourite nickname in the whole piece from Colin "Cubby" Wall, and eliminates a solicitor from the script before she even starts. Most would consider this a good thing.

By far, though, the biggest screenplay change is giving the one Good Guy- named Barry, of course- way more film than Jo gives him ink. The novel kills him off at the end of the first chapter, but here his death is delayed well into the first of the three hours, and he returns in both real flashbacks and fantasy sequences, the latter usually occurring in the elder Mollison's cerebral pensieve.  The series also has Rory Kinnear narrate the multiple appearances of "the Ghost of Barry Fairbrother" that are roughly faithful to the text, with some added emojis and other graphic graphics.

Where the series succeeds best, though, is in highlighting a distinction that a Facebook/Goodreader friend of mine picked up on in her review of the JKR original: "Not surprisingly, perhaps, I felt the book to be most alive when its young adult characters were taking center stage. The author seemed to have the most affinity for and understanding of them, and it was their stories I found most compelling."  Indeed, the series spends a bit more time showing their interactions than the novel did, even while cutting out some plot elements involving the teens (such as Barry's rescue of the "Fields" girl Krystal by coaching a rowing team at their school). Instead, we see Barry taking a (purely friend-like) interest in both Krystal and her drug-dependent mother, the reasons for which, if any, never being explained.  Both plots add the element of Robbie, a young and utterly adorable son to Terri/brother to Krystal, and both involve him tragically in the story's final moments, although with somewhat different outcomes.

Yet it is the bond between two boys- Fats (who is not fat) and Arf (who does not bark)- that resonates especially on the screen. Fats is played by a relatively new actor from outside the Potter/BBC Mafia named Brian Vernel, but his resemblance to Daniel Radcliffe in appearance, dialect and smartarsiness cannot be coincidental.  He is definitively less of a shite than his written version was, although he retains some of his worst moments, especially in the tragic end.  Arf also takes a bit less abuse from his father than as originally written, although what we see also remains painful- as does the Patented JKR Plot Twist that ties their families' fates (and those Krystal and Robbie)
together in a you-have-to-laugh ironic way.

The screenplay rushes the ostensible plotline about the titular "vacancy" on the village's governing council- the one caused by Barry's death that will determine the fate of a community centre in the quaint-beyond-words English village where the book is set (and the series is lushly filmed). While Jo doesn't really pick up its pace until midway through the novel, the series tries to make it seem important almost from the beginning- and yet makes the eventual outcome of the election to fill the vacancy seem completely anti-climactic almost as soon as it's announced. Whatever little importance it had fades as quickly as Lord and Lady Douchebag disappear from the scene and the community centre's demise leads, directly and almost instantly, to the sadness and sickness of the final reel.

There is a particularly delicious scene between the elder Mollisons that encapsulates the general trend in the book to have all the adult twats turn on each other.  Some of the other unpairings are either patched up (in the case of their son) or never really developed at all (Kaye the social worker doesn't have the failed relationship with one of Barry's partners, who is written out of the story altogether), and the script ends with a somewhat more hopeful ending in the face of the many deaths and injuries that we do witness.

IMDB vaguely implies the series could extend beyond these three episodes, but I think I've had quite enough of these people for one lifetime.

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