In 2012, JK Rowling released her first novel for adults which, following its huge success, was adapted into a TV miniseries which premiered on the 15th February on BBC1 and captured the attention of 6.6 million viewers. Even though JK Rowling herself praised the series, it spurred mixed reviews from critics and viewers alike.
Moving as far away from the magical Wizarding Word of Harry Potter as possible, The Casual Vacancy handles sensitive subjects such as drug abuse, deprivation, child neglect and conflict between families with numerous intertwining storylines and a diverse range of characters, many of whom are portrayed memorably throughout the three-part drama. The only aspect that somewhat links the two of JK Rowling’s creations is the return of much-loved actor Michael Gambon who acted the part of Dumbledore in Harry Potter, and portrays Howard Mollison in The Casual Vacancy; the leader of Pagford Parish Council.
In the wake of Parish Counsellor Barry Fairbrother’s (Rory Kinnear) abrupt death, the sleepy town of Pagford is shaken, and subsequently have a vacant seat on the council to fill. However, those running for Barry’s seat soon find their darkest secrets revealed on the Parish Council’s online forum by a mysterious blogger, under the username ‘The_Ghost_Of_Barry_Fairbrother’, which has destructive consequences for the snobby townspeople.
The television adaption focuses on the tragic life of 16-year-old Krystal Weedon (Abigail Lawrie), the daughter of prostitute and heroin addict, Terri Weedon (Keeley Forsyth). Krystal desperately tries to care for her three-year-old brother, Robbie, whilst trying to ensure her mother stays free of drug use by attending the local rehabilitation centre. The Weedons live in The Fields, the run-down council estate that Barry was passionate about helping, but which the majority of Pagford (especially the Mollisons) want to banish from the town so as to create a more ‘up market’ community and off-load responsibility for The Fields’ inhabitants. Miles Mollison wins the election, resulting in the rehabilitation centre and methadone clinic being shut down and relocated – triggering the tragic aftermath that follows. The main ongoing theme throughout the series is the difference and conflict between classes and the social issues that arise.
Viewers that had read the novel beforehand may have found themselves disappointed by the hasty ending which lacked the depth and meaning that the book presented. In all fairness, a novel containing over 500 pages packed full of complex characters and intricate subplots couldn’t possibly be crammed into three hour-long episodes without having to sacrifice a significant amount – it’s apparent that there was enough material in the novel to make double the amount of episodes.
The characters that were focused on during the series were portrayed excellently, but many were not delivered to their full potential such as Sukhvinder Jawanda (Ria Choony), who was a prominent character throughout the novel but barely uttered a sentence throughout the three episodes. The TV adaption left viewers feeling confused at the numerous unanswered questions, which were presumably left open for interpretation.
The harrowing ending will come as a shock to viewers who had not previously read the book, but for readers of The Casual Vacancy, the ending is significantly less distressing than the novel as screenwriter Sarah Phelps altered the extremely upsetting original ending to make it slightly less “grim”. Like the book, the series definitely engages the viewers’ emotions, and makes us laugh as well as cry whilst enabling us to bond with certain characters and sympathise with them. The series is not a comfortable watch, but its gritty realness makes it intriguing and has a lingering effect on the viewer.
Words by Sarah Turner