Regular visitors to my little corner of cyberspace will have spotted that I am a big fan of books and reading in general. I love fantasy, and magic, and supernatural thrillers; different worlds, sideways views of our own world, the idea that there are things we can’t see (and, in the case of Stephen King, that we don’t want to see). I don’t love it when some bright spark decides to take one of these books and turn it into a film or a TV series, unless they are people who can be trusted to do it properly. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, I think, can be trusted with Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London books, but the teams responsible for The Seeker: The Dark is Rising (from the novel by Susan Cooper) and Midwinter of the Spirit (from Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series) should never have been allowed near the productions.
I can almost imagine the conversation in The Seeker‘s production meeting: “Yeah, so we’ve got Eccleston as the bad guy and McShane as the wizard, right, but we gotta make it relevant to American kids, we can’t have another magic English kid, Harry Potter and all that, let’s make the kid and his family American, let’s transplant them to England, fish outta water stuff…”. Just, no. You killed the story. Suffice to say they didn’t get the go-ahead to film the rest of the novels.
Midwinter of the Spirit suffered from some of the same problems: the brilliant Anna Maxwell Martin cast in the main role was a great choice, but they hammered a long novel into a short series in a very heavy-handed way, losing a lot of the suspense and also – by choosing not to start the series with the first novel – a lot of the context. Shame, because these are brilliantly written, unputdownable books.
The one notable exception is William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, possibly because by 1973 when the novel was published he was already an Academy Award-winning screen writer for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Best Original Screenplay) and he also adapted the novel for the screen. It’s still one of my favourite films and books, and finding another fan almost always means finding a new friend. Not that having the original author on board is always a good thing, of course, because then you run the risk of making, say, eight long films from seven long books (I’m looking at you, J.K.Rowling, you and your ‘direct assistance’ in the screenwriting).
(As an aside, Twilight and The Vampire Diaries were actually better than the books but only because they could not have been worse. So it does work both ways. Sometimes).
It was with some trepidation. therefore, that I headed to BBC iPlayer this week to check out The Watch, ‘inspired by’ characters from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. BBC2 has the tagline “In a world where crime is legal, a group of chaotic misfit cops rise up to save their city from catastrophe. A punk rock comedy thriller inspired by Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.” The buzz on the Pratchett fan pages has been almost entirely negative. Outrage around the casting has been prominent: a woman as Lord Vetinari (Anna Chancellor)? A short person (Marama Corlett) as Angua? A tall person (Jo Eaton-Kent) as Cheery? A black woman (Lara Rossi) as Sybil Ramkin? Other than Carrot, who remains true to Pratchett’s vision, the casting producer has created a hugely diverse and entertaining ensemble. Richard Dormer, cast as Vimes, is guilty of gurning too much and perhaps too much comedy has been written in for him, but he was a good choice. Matt Berry and Paul Kaye are always good value, too.
Part of the outrage has also come from a fierce loyalty to Terry Pratchett and, latterly, to his daughter Rhianna. She very diplomatically tweeted that “It’s fairly obvious that The Watch shares no DNA with my father’s Watch. This is neither criticism nor support. It is what it is.” Den of Geek has more on the controversy here. Funnily enough, Good Omens wasn’t criticised in the same way, perhaps because Neil Gaiman is Pratchett-adjacent and David Tennant is similarly adored for his time as the Tenth Doctor. The news this week on hearing that a second series of Good Omens in in the works should probably have provoked outrage as there isn’t a book, but once you’re in the Pratchett family, you’re in and you can pretty much do no wrong.
Previous big-budget adaptations of the Discworld novels have tended to be by Sky, who filmed the first two novels as The Colour of Magic, then did Hogfather and Going Postal. These weren’t perfect in terms of casting, either, but also weren’t terribly revolutionary. Charles Dance was perfectly cast as Vetinari, Tim Curry made an excellent wizard. Sean Astin was OK as Twoflower but David Jason was utterly wrong for Rincewind (he did make a great Albert in Hogfather, to give him his dues). The problem with filming such beloved novels is that readers have a very clear vision of who they think would be the best actor for the role, and are vociferous on the subject. The constant ‘casting posts’ on the various fan pages are annoying in the extreme, so one learns the art of scrolling.
Suffice to say that none of the actors in The Watch have featured in any of these posts. Was this possibly a deliberate decision, in the sense of ‘we’ll never get it right, so let’s have some fun’?
So, I went into the series knowing that the production company had played merry hell with the storylines, the characters and the sacred Discworld canon. And, you know what? I really enjoyed it. I left my Discworld expectations back on Roundworld and went along for the ride. The writers have picked bits from any number of the novels, not just the Watch series: Soul Music, Guards Guards, Night Watch, The Light Fantastic, Thud! to name a few, and they really have had fun with them. Many of the puns have been lost, and the addition of a gloriously camp dance routine came a bit out of leftfield, but it’s still thoroughly bonkers, funny and sweet in places. It does look as if most of the filming took place in the Elephant and Castle shopping centre, but you don’t get much more dystopian than that. The soundtrack is great, Cheery is an absolute delight, and the ending leaves it open for more….though as yet series 2 hasn’t been commissioned, sadly.
We’ve also watched Katla this week – gloomy, spooky and Nordic – and a 2018 series called Requiem, chosen because we like most things Joel Fry does.
What is there in this world that makes living worthwhile?
A surprise birthday present arrived this week from my lovely work colleagues, combining Pratchett, cross stitch and cats – three of my favourite things! I love getting handmade gifts and, believe it or not, it’s quite a rarity. I don’t know who made it but I LOVE it.
I also packed off the gift I couldn’t share last week: I could not get it straight in the hoop, so I gave up in the end. The pattern is by Climbing Goat Designs on Etsy.
This week I have been working on another gift, and another Totoro baby lovey – this time a commission. My cross stitch is on 18 count fabric and it’s getting to the point where I can’t see the holes in the fabric any more so may need to invest in one of those magnifying lights! Old age is creeping up fast…
This week I am looking forward to doing some delivery in schools, which I have really missed, and hopefully the sun will come out at some point!
See you next week
What I’ve been reading:
The Museum of Broken Promises – Elizabeth Buchan
The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes – Ruth Hogan
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock – Imogen Hermes Gowar
Guards, Guards – Terry Pratchett
Lundy, Rockall, Dogger, Fairisle – Matthew Clayton and Anthony Atkinson