Sunday, June 21, 2015

Detective Jackson Brodie Investigates in Case Histories

Recently, I've gotten into author Kate Atkinson's works and have been making my way through two of her book series. The first of these is her Jackson Brodie series, which contains the following four books to date:

- Case Histories;
- One Good Turn;
- When Will There Be Good News?; and
- Started Early, Took My Dog.

So far I've read the first three and have enjoyed the high-brow mystery novels that Atkinson presents. Somewhere along in this reading process, I heard that a TV miniseries had been created based on the books, but I wasn't much interested. That is, until I wandered over to Atkinson's website and saw that Jason Isaacs plays the lead role in the series. After loving his portrayal of Detective Michael Britten on Awake, I just knew Isaacs would be perfect as Brodie.

Isaacs as Brodie in Case Histories
The TV series is a product of BBC Scotland, is simply named Case Histories after the first book, and has two seasons to date (or "series" as they say in the U.K.). The first season covers the events of the first three books and consists of six episodes of roughly one hour in length each, with two episodes dedicated per book. The second season follows the fourth book and is made up of three episodes. Since I've only read the first three books so far, I've only watched the first season, but I'm pleased with what I've seen.

In the essence of time, Case Histories the TV show truncates the books a great deal. We have far less musing about random things and fewer direct insights into character's thought processes. Backstories are significantly shortened. The time between the cases goes from years to months, and basically everything takes place in Edinburgh rather than having Brodie moving about Europe frequently. And Brodie never leaves his private investigating career for greener pastures (before ultimately being sucked back into mysterious circumstance after mysterious circumstance). While purists may object to these liberties, they make sense to me given the medium change.

Other big changes in the transition from book to television come in the way of the characters. Some characters - like Deborah Arnold - are given bigger roles to play, while others - like Joanna Hunter - are given far less screen time. Meanwhile, some characters - like David Lastingham - don't make it into the show at all. Julia becomes a far more sympathetic character while Marcus is made less likable. Several characters end up with happier - or at least more optimistic - conclusions than they did in the books, particularly Martin Canning and Amelia Land.

As I surmised, Isaacs makes a wonderful Jackson Brodie. In an interview, Kate Atkinson admitted that her readers seemed more enamored with Jackson than she was, and while I enjoyed the books, I can't say it was because I was in love with Jackson. However, Isaacs gives Brodie a charm that isn't there in the books while tamping down his overprotectiveness a bit so that it comes off more endearing and less machismo. Also, without giving away any spoilers, TV's Brodie doesn't do the something in book two that is inexcusable and unforgivable to me, so that's a big plus.

Likewise, Amanda Abbington was amazing as Louise Munroe. Even though Munroe was easily one of my favorite characters in the novels, her rough exterior could come off abrasive without the benefit of her inner dialogue that we get in the text. But Abbington was able to keep Munroe snappy on the job and antagonistic toward Jackson while maintaining a je ne sais quoi that allows viewers to realize she's not entirely serious about her tough talk and there's a marshmallow soul beneath that all.

Other castings that I found just perfect are:
- Gwyneth Keyworth as Reggie - wonderfully fitting the part of a teenaged girl who looks much longer, while also bringing forth so much of Reggie's pathos, even with the reduced screen time to explore Reggie's past and present woes; and
- Fenella Woolgar as Amelia - such lovely casting, as I enjoyed Woolgar's bit role in BBC's production of He Knew He Was Right and I'm currently being very impressed with Woolgar's reading of the audiobook version of Atkinson's Life After Life.

The remaining characters are mostly well cast, although I can't help but be befuddled by the choice for Theo Wyre. He's a fine enough actor for getting the characterization of a kind but obsessively grieving father across, but the book makes such a fuss of repeatedly noting how obese he is - to the point of his doctor and his daughter worrying over his health, of his having his groceries delivered to his home because he doesn't want others to judge his food choices; of his being winded after walking up a flight of stairs; of his constantly being concerned about others' perception of him because of his weight. Philip Davis as Theo barely has a "spare tire" physique, yet alone a largeness that's going to turn heads in astonishment. I don't know why that small detail bugged me so much, but it did. On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised to see that casting had managed to add in a few minority characters so that the show would be a little diverse. (It could still use more, but I guess there's only so much you can do with the source material... )

As I mentioned earlier, the events of the novels are greatly truncated and fused, resulting in a faster pacing, fewer tangents, and more of Brodie tying up loose ends all on his own genius (rather than the sometimes happenstance way that the readers find out the conclusion of a mystery in the books). The show seems sometimes to take a more light-hearted approach to the grimness of Brodie's world, with elements like the more flirty banter between Jackson and Louise and the oddly upbeat musical interludes that often scatter throughout scenes (when of course we're not being "treated" to Brodie's favorite country Western songs). Again, this is one of the issues that arises with converting a book to the screen - the book found its humor in little funny random thoughts in characters' minds or in Atkinson's literary references, neither of which really can find their way into a television script.

All in all, this TV series is a solid attempt at translating the text into film. While there's nothing particularly spectacular about it, I also don't think there's much to offend fans of those books in the changes that were made. And for those who don't have the time or inclination to tackle the book series, this is a perfectly adequate substitution for some entertainment with considerably less gore than many other crime dramas and with interesting characters and plotlines. On that note, despite knowing how the mysteries resolved in the book, there was still a bit of suspense in how they would be solved or end in the TV series, given the revisions. Although this show isn't an instant favorite of mine by any stretch, it's appealing enough that I'll probably try to track down Season 2 once I finish reading the fourth book.

No comments:

Post a Comment