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Thursday, 14 July 2011

Television Review: The Night Watch

I love Sarah Waters. I've watched the adaptations of Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith and Affinity and enjoyed them all. In the case of Affinity I think I preferred the adaptation to the book. However, The Night Watch struck me as a completely different animal. How do you dramatise a book that begins at the end and works backwards? Thankfully, the concept worked better than I thought it would on screen and a good story was backed up by some outstanding performances.

Credit has to go to Paula Milne for a terrific script and to director Richard Laxton. They brought a difficult novel to life and the bomb scenes in particular were haunting. The barest dialogue in those was enough. Of course, an excellent script and direction only count if you've got a great cast and The Night Watch certainly had that.

Anna Maxwell-Martin was known to me for her recent role in South Riding. I have to say, I wasn't sure she was right for the role of ambulance driver Kay but she fit the part very well. I couldn't warm to her immediately but - as with most characters - as we moved backwards I understood her more. It's difficult to pick my favourite Kay scene but her breaking down in the rubble when she thought her beloved Helen was dead was painful to watch - along with what happened directly after that.

Claire Foy as Helen did very well with a character whose motivations aren't as clear-cut as those of other characters. Equally, Anna Wilson-Jones as Julia was alluring, manipulative and guarded - sometimes all in the same scene. As for Jodie Whittaker playing Viv...well, I think I've found one of my favourite actresses for years to come. She was by far my favourite character in the adaptation when I felt indifferent to her during the novel at times. Harry Treadway as Duncan, Viv's brother, was something of a revelation to me since I wasn't expecting to like him. Duncan's a pretty complex character but, to my surprise, the layers were there without the necessary explanation. I particularly liked the prison scenes, especially when he started crying in the visiting room. That was another of those haunting scenes this adaptation did so well.

I could list almost every scene if I began talking about the ones I liked but I'll settle for a select few: Julia and Helen's conversation in the rain; Viv's first encounter with Reggie on the train; Kay's decision to lie for Viv as they travelled to hospital; the bombs falling on the prison... Honestly, the list goes on and on.

As with the book, you really need to watch this again to get the full effect of it. Did I like it? Yes. More than the book? No. But I think that's true of most adaptations. It certainly stands on its own feet though.

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