Wednesday, 21 October 2015

PopCult (TV & Book) 2: Merrily, Merrily, Darkly



If you have a long-time investment in a fictional character and their world, as I do with author Phil Rickman's gripping series about Herefordshire 'Deliverance Consultant' (AKA 'exorcist') Merrily Watkins, it can be unnerving to hear that they are to be translated from the page to the screen.
Particularly in this case.
How to capture the eccentric blend of parallel criminality and spirituality, the subtleties of character and suggestions of an underlying battle for souls beneath it all? It's a weird English Pastoral Noir, almost a genre in itself.

With ITV's recent adaptation of Phil's second in the series, 'Midwinter of the Spirit' (1999) as a 3-part 'primetime' drama I was relieved – as were many other champions of this gifted writer's work across print and other media (including Radio Times TV reviewer Alison Graham) – that the transition was thoughtfully done, and ultimately a success.

Anna Maxwell-Martin may not entirely match the impression I have developed of Merrily over the last 17 years – and 13-ish novels – but that was highly unlikely to happen. She's a hell of an actress though.
Other characters have been altered to meet the criteria of current broadcaster's inclusive agendas, though to no particular ill-effect. There was strong direction from Richard Clark and a sympathetic script from Stephen Volk. 
Among a strong cast David Threlfall was especially noteworthy as Merrily's gruff mentor, Huw Owen.

I have an email correspondence with Phil R. stretching back quite a few years, and it's been interesting to read his wariness shift to relief and – justified – pleasure at what happened with the show.
It would be good to see more.
The proprietorial feelings of the reader of the novels isn't going away – this still isn't quite 'my' Merrily. But it is provocative, unusual and well-crafted – like Phil's books.

So - highly recommended – and out next month on DVD.
Phil's 14th Merrily novel – 'Friends of the Dusk' is out in December.

Lots of interesting material about this and other work by the man here.

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