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The Crow Road TV series

The Iain Banks novel was published in 1992, and this four part, four hour mini-series was produced in 1996. The adaptation is pretty faithful to the book, although one of the changes is that it moves the "now" to circa 1994 from circa 1990. This is mostly noticeable in that the background war is in Bosnia rather than Kuwait, but some of the other cultural references are also updated, such as Prentice wearing a Nirvana t-shirt to his grandmother's funeral. (One of the reviews of the novel I read made the good point that it's an excellent time capsule of the era it was written in.)

Other changes are the elimination of Prentice's younger brother, James, who was an almost entirely peripheral character in the book. We (and Prentice) also regularly see the ghost of Uncle Rory (played by none other than Peter Capaldi), and I guess that was done to replace the bits of Rory's writing that Prentice reads in the book. Those bits of writing are still in the story, but we don't get as much of them as we do in the book (where we read whole sections of it, although we don't know that until near the end). In the TV show Rory speaks to Prentice, urging him on. Which brings up perhaps the major change from the book: the mystery of Rory's disappearance is the center of the story from the beginning. The TV show is essentially a murder mystery, with moody Hitchcockian music over the opening credits. In the book the murder mystery only slowly emerges, and the genre of the story as a whole is more of a coming-of-age story crossed with a family saga. In the series those elements are subservient to the murder mystery.

If the TV show improves on the book at all, it's by making the story more focused. It feels less baggy than the book. Nonetheless the story is essentially the same, and I had some of the same problems with it. Most of all, I still found Prentice a not very interesting character, which is a fatal thing in a protagonist. His father, Kenneth, for example, is a much more fascinating figure, as is, for that matter, the eventual love interest, Ashley, who is a smart woman working in the tech industry in the early days of the internet. What kind of shit does *she* have to deal with? But I will say that I thought all the casting was great, and it was cool to see the novel's many characters embodied and played. Sometimes I had a hard time understanding the Scottish accents, but listening to the voices did fill me with the desire to return to Scotland and just putter about the countryside for a while, stopping to taste the single malt along the way. So I guess it works as a travel brochure at the very least.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 26th, 2014 08:27 pm (UTC)
I really liked both the novel and the TV adaptation. Liked the show even more the second time through. I guess Prentice, in his distinctly Scottish brand of blandness, works as the stand-in for the viewer. A likeable kid, and I could totally relate to his shyness, and his blindness to Ashley's interest in him. The slow romance with Ashley was beautifully played, I thought, very believable. Lots of good ghostly touches. I loved the sculptor thread. Sorry you didn't much care for it, but if it makes it more likely that you'll return to Scotland someday, it's a good thing.
Jul. 27th, 2014 03:19 pm (UTC)
Ashley is a wonderful fantasy figure, but I think for me to relate personally she'd have to be just as confused and lost as Prentice. Or to put it another way, he's a lucky boy that somebody so self-assured and wise has taken an interest in him.

I did think the novel had some nice bits of structure and misdirection, and of course some good comedy as well.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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