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Monday, 27 June 2011

Television Review: Case Histories

When I first noticed the Kate Atkinson books were being adapted for television I was quite happy. Jackson Brodie is a hero for modern times, complete with the result that he's never quite on top even when he wins. Although I've only read one of these three novels (When Will There Be Good News? which was the basis for the third of the two-episode arcs) I still had high hopes. And, yes, I was proved right. I really enjoyed the three weeks.

Cutting the three novels into two-hour arcs was a good decision. Usually there was enough going on to hold audience interest, although I did hear some frustrated rumblings on Twitter about the repetition of Brodie's childhood flashbacks. It seemed like padding at times but I suppose from the producer's point of view they were necessary to give context to whatever was going on at the time. The story is never just 'the criminal story': it's how Brodie relates to it. I'm aware that they've altered things a fair bit from the books (regarding aspects of his personal life anyway) but I'm not certain how much liberty they've taken. I'll have to read the first two books to be sure. Either way, it worked as a bit of television which was the important thing.

The first two episodes, based on Case Histories itself, were a decent introduction held together by a stellar cast. Although linking several cases together works more simply in a book I don't think it translated onto screen all that badly. Admittedly, the first few minutes of episode two were a crash course of remembrance but once I grounded myself again I was fine. Most importantly, I think, the episodes were enjoyable, maybe a little predictable in parts, but good viewing nonetheless. Jason Isaacs managed to instill a fairly mute character with pain and recognisable emotion. One of the criticisms I read was that Brodie was difficult to comprehend and the reviewer wished for a voice-over. I certainly don't think that would've worked in the context and it didn't need to: Isaacs communicated well enough for me.

Episodes three and four - One Good Turn - were possibly my favourite, just because of the friendship that springs up between a middle-aged woman and a Russian dominatrix. Again, the episode was helped by an exceptional cast, although it dragged in certain places. One of the cast highlights was certainly Millie Innes as Brodie's young daughter. The relationship between father and daughter is one of the mainstays of the six episodes and it definitely worked to make the tough guy a little more vulnerable. The novelist in this episode, Martin Canning, was the kind of bumbling nervous character I can't help but love.

Episodes five and six - When Will There Be Good News? - showcased the acting talents of young Gwyneth Keyworth as Reggie, the girl who saves Brodie's life after he's involved in a train accident. She's definitely one to watch out for the in the future and helped make these episodes my favourite. That probably has something to do with me having read the book for it also. However, it felt as if it ran a little more smoothly, in comparison to the other two arcs. I think it had less going on and so didn't confuse as much. Plus, it also signalled a shift in attitudes between Brodie and his ex-colleague, Louise, who worked fantastically together on screen. I was also crying at the end of episode six, which probably means the acting and script did its job correctly.

Overall, this was a television treat as far as I'm concerned. The Edinburgh setting was used to great effect and the personal was mixed nicely into Brodie's professional life. The number of injuries he ended up with were unbelieveable though and the slightly graphic violence suited the occasion, if making a squeamish person like myself a little uncomfortable. Jackson Brodie emerged from it all as an excellent character, not anywhere near as wooden as I'd expected him to be. If I have one more criticism it must go to the BBC for their Sunday night/Monday night scheduling. It's just a way to drag in ratings and, yes, it means the story is fresh in mind without festering for a week, but it's frustrating to assume that the people who watch television on a Sunday are equipped to do so on a Monday as well. I don't know what the ratings were but I'd imagine this dual-night aspect put some people off. Not me...I taped to watch later.

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