The new BBC detective show that lives up to the books…
Oh boy, have I been looking forward to this series. The Cormoran Strike book series have been some of the most entertaining and grounded detective stories I’ve read in a good while. The stories are rooted in realism, the characters are down to earth and believable, and the prose is fantastic, which is to be expected coming from J.K. Rowling (although she writes under the name Robert Galbraith). Having really enjoyed the books I was, of course overjoyed to hear that a TV series was being commissioned, and slightly nervous. Quite often having read the source material can get in the way of enjoying the film/TV version; I struggle to get as much fun from the Harry Potter films because the books are so much more detailed. However, a TV series can give us more detail and depth as a longer length is allowed for the story, and for a book series set in modern day London, the budget needn’t be as high. Now that I’ve seen the show, I can confirm that it is damn good!
The TV show adapts the first two books in the series, so to be consistent I’m going to review the first part of the series, The Cuckoo’s Calling as a complete story. The series, written by Ben Richards and directed by Michael Keillor serves as an introduction to the characters, but also manages to have a very gripping mystery centred around the fashion industry. As such there is a lot of set up, but it is dealt with in a very natural way (for the most part). The military background of Strike is worked naturally into the story, through the new temporary secretary Robin. As she is first meeting and working for him, we find out about his past when she does.
The only slightly clunky moments of exposition are when Strike talks to a concierge and brings up his missing leg, saying “would you like to see?”. The fact he is missing a leg probably could have been brought up a bit more subtly, rather than having the character actually point it out. Apart from a few moments like this however, the story is very naturalistic. We spend a good amount of time watching Strike try to get his life back together after a nasty breakup, camping in his office, getting a sleeping bag; in fact, the only reason he even takes the case is that he is desperate for cash.
The actual mystery is engaging and unpredictable. If I hadn’t read the books I probably wouldn’t have guessed who was the murderer and the only real problem I have is that many of the clues and interviews were cut down quite a bit from in the book. The issue with this is that it makes it harder for the audience to have a fair chance of guessing who the culprit is, meaning that we feel less rewarded when it is actually revealed. However, the story is adapted very well from Rowling by Ben Richards, and thanks the three-hour runtime, he manages to give the story room to breathe. The book has a slow pace, showing us the mundane side of detective work, whilst focusing on building character, and the Show does the same.
A downside of the show is that the cinematography didn’t particularly stand out. There were a few really nice shots but for the most part the composition was quite standard. This is a realistic show, but it could take a few notes from Sherlock, which despite its flaws is shot beautifully and takes advantage of the London setting. This isn’t a deal breaker, but it does make the show a little less interesting to look at. What helps however, is the stellar editing. The pacing is kept smooth thanks to very seamless cuts, and whoever had the idea to only show the scene directly before the murder, and then film shots of the interior of the apartment should be commended. The scene then transitions very smoothly into the exterior where a crime scene has already been set up, before we end with a shot of the body. This is a very evocative and unusual way of editing such a scene and it got me very curious to see what else they would do with it.
Finally, the performances. Tom Burke stars as the lead Cormoran Strike, and as a fan of the books, he does the character justice. He is slightly gruff and reserved, with enough hidden angst to keep us interested. He portrays a man going through a tough spot and keeping it to himself, and captures a certain casual demeanour that reflects his job as an investigator, trying not to draw attention. I particularly admire how much weight Burke has put on for the role, it adds another dimension to the character and is accurate to the books. It’s nice to have a less good looking podgy protagonist for once! Lastly, we have Robin Ellacott, played by Holliday Grainger. Grainger captures the perky optimistic Robin with aplomb, and she is a good foil to Strikes grim gruff character. The two have good chemistry, and Grainger is very good at keeping the character from being annoyingly chipper. She has a sunny, can-do attitude, but she isn’t naïve. She’s capable and fun to watch, and clearly, there’s much more about her character to explore.
So the series is an extremely enjoyable watch, even if you haven’t read the books, although if you have, you won’t be disappointed. The show is interesting, exciting and has a lot of potential. The actors give great performances, the story and pacing are superb, and it is a stellar example of how to adapt a book into a TV format. Give it a watch, and see for yourself!