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‘The Casual Vacancy’ Coming to HBO

| Wednesday, April 1, 2015

CasualVacancy_WEBEMILY DANAHER | The Observer

“The Casual Vacancy” by J.K. Rowling was released under a pen name in 2012 where it was greeted with minimal fanfare and was generally not well reviewed, even after she was revealed as the author. It was called “not only disappointing — it’s dull,” according to “The New York Times.” Rowling also released another book under a different pen name, called “Cormoran Strike,” which was received much more enthusiastically. The negative reviews that “The Casual Vacancy” received may have prevented some Rowling fans from actually giving the book a shot. It may be that when reading “The Casual Vacancy,” many Potter fans were looking for that same sense of magic which they simply did not find in the bleak village of Pagford.

However, new life has been breathed into the book by HBO and BBC One. The book has been transformed into a three part miniseries. There seems to be brighter prospects for the story as a miniseries, with the adaptation credited to Sarah Phelps, who wrote scripts for “Great Expectations,” “Camelot” and “EastEnders.”

The cast brings in “Harry Potter” alum Michael Gambon. Gambon previously starred as Albus Dumbledore and will now star as Howard Mollison, owner of a delicatessen in the seemingly idyllic town of Pagford. Rory Kinnear, who recently starred in “The Imitation Game,” will take on the role of Barry Fairbrother, a councilman whose death opens the series. Other cast members are up and coming stars, like Abigail Lawrie. While the cast may not be completely stacked with huge names, the trailer for the series looks promising. The illusion of the idyllic town is stripped away quickly, with the plot revolving around the town’s reaction to Fairbrother’s death and the ever present resentments within the town of Pagford. Some considered the story to be too dark — almost an antithesis to “Harry Potter” — but it can also be viewed as dealing with many of the same struggles present in “Harry Potter” from a more “muggle” perspective. Within the story, there is a wealth of struggles among all manners of people: rich against poor, teenagers against parents, students against teachers, to name a few. While these struggles are used in many different mediums, Rowling’s darker take on these issues creates a more compelling drama for television.

For those who have read the book, don’t expect it to be a word for word translation. As with most adaptations, allowances must be made for the medium the story is told in. Phelps has revealed that she had to change the “grim, grim, grim” ending of the novel and put in “some kind of redemptive moment” to make the story work for television.

Rowling fully supports Phelps’s adaptation choices, calling her “a writer at the top of her game.” Rowling had discussed Phelps’s vision of “The Casual Vacancy,” making Rowling “happy and confident to hand over the job” of shaping the story for television.

The series has already been released in the United Kingdom, and the reviews are promising. “The Telegraph” describes it as a “biting, blackly comic drama” with “an elegiac feel.” It might not be a feel-good series, but given the past successes of Rowling and Phelps, as well as BBC One and HBO in the production of mini-series, “The Casual Vacancy” will undoubtedly be an excellent production.

The series was released in the United Kingdom on BBC One on February 15. Just in case you wanted to do some pre-reading days procrastination, the first two parts will be released on HBO on April 29, and the third part is due April 30.

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