When I saw that the BBC had taken the decision to dramatise J.K. Rowling's A Casual Vacancy I was looking forward to it. I read this book about a year ago and was impressed by it. The number of characters weaved into the story line and also that the storyline was hard hitting. Almost really a modern day take on Dickens exposing injustice in society and dealing with greed, lust, power etc.
Sadly the BBC's adaptation was a let down. Not because the setting failed - they nailed Pagford well. Or that the cast and acting wasn't top notch - a quality cast saw to that. However for some reason someone somewhere decided it should be just three one hour episodes only. This then led to a massive re-write by Sarah Phelps. I think she presented a good coherent story... it's just that it wasn't really A Casual Vacancy as in the book. (I'll return to this below.)
Here's an observation. It is replaced by an updated version of Poldark (which has been adapted before). That runs for 8 episodes. The excellent new Banished which is a drama about Australian convicts set in the 18th Century started on Thursday, that is 7 episodes. And the swashbuckling The Musketeers is nearing its second series 10 episode run. So if you are adapting or writing a historical drama for the BBC you get a long run, a modern hard hitting challenging one only a short one seems to be the conclusion I can draw on these facts. I think if this had been an adaptation of a Dickens novel it would have been longer. Seriously this needed to be another 2 episodes at least and then some major story elements could have been retained.
*****SPOILER ALERT***********SPOILER ALERT***********SPOILER ALERT******
If you don't want to know and want to read the book leave now...
Firstly - Barry who dies in the book early on had formed a rowing club for the girls at the local comprehensive. Krystal was on that team - that is important - very. This was showing the girls that despite the problems in their lives if they worked hard and worked together they could take on the Mollisons of the world and beat them. They had beaten the team from the private school. Hence her devotion to Barry but not because he replaced broken doors or picked her Mum up from the police station.
Gaia and her Mum moved to Pagford because her Mum was in love with Gavin - Barry's friend. He disappeared completely out of the rewrite. Again an important piece not least because of his affection towards Barry's widow is important and the tension of them moving from London not least for Gaia is an important plot point.
Colin Wall's source of his paranoia was never explained - it is another important sub-plot. How do you feel about someone with concerns about their feelings towards children who is working with them?
Samantha Mollison - well played by Keeley Hawes but sadly all the point about wanting to recapture youth and her infatuation with a boy band was lost - again to me important to understand her character etc. Oh yes... where did the Mollison's lesbian daughter disappear to?
Finally the talk before this was aired was that the ending wasn't watered down. Simply, it was. Krystal still died but in the book there was the violent rape by the Mum's dealer boyfriend, Robbie's death by accidental drowning and then Krystal taking her own life by overdose of her Mum's heroin supply and you as the reader/observer being whipped along in this maelstrom of unfair injustice that you fully understood why Krystal gave up. And that should make the reader then ask - "Is this society I live in just and fair and right?" That's the point of the book. The show ends with a sad accidental drowning but without as much punch in the solar plexus of your conscience.
To me it seemed like bits were continually shaved off the story to be able to fit it into the length rather than a suitable length being considered for the material. Shame....