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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

HBO Mini-Series of J.K. Rowling's 'The Casual Vacancy' Must-See Its Not TV


The Casual Vacancy (2015) Poster

These musings regarding the HBO three-part mini-series, which premieres tonight, of the J.K. Rowling novel "The Casual Vacancy" are a follow-up to the post yesterday on an interview with BAFTA-winning "Vacancy" director Jonny Campbell.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the HBO trailer for "Vacancy" provides glimpses of the small-town intrigue and underlying creepy vibe of this BAFTA and Emmy-worthy British production.


The primary meaning of the titular opening refers to a slot on the parish council of the beautifully filmed rural town Pagford in the Cotswolds region of England. The origin of this gap is the sudden death of aptly named council member (and all-around good bloke) Barry Fairbrother. The particular significance of  the timing of that event is that it roughly coincides with a council debate regarding a proposal to transform a community center that provides low-income people social services into an upscale spa.

The debate regarding the future of the community center and the election that determines the outcome of that council vote nicely provides a backdrop for the class war in Pagford. That hostility in turn nicely ties in with the recent three-part "Back to Dystopia Days" posts on this site.

Council president (and local wealthy business owner) Howard Mollison wonderfully represents the upper-class in his attitudes and in coercing his son Miles into running for the vacant council seat. For his part, Miles is a weak-willed solicitor with a wife who has a hilarious drinking problem and two daughters who are skilled manipulators.

Any discussion of the Mollison clan screams for mentioning the superb job of "The King's Speech" and several film adaptations of Rowling's "Harry Potter" series (as well as roughly 140 other roles) veteran Michael Gambon. His performance here further screams for him to play the lead in a staging of Shakespeare's "King Lear."

Trying to provide the superb castmates of Gambon their proper due is as challenging as trying to properly thank everyone in an awards ceremony speech. Suffice it to say both that the numerous well-established British actors and everyone else is superb and that the three primary young actors are set to fill in the gap left by now-20somethings Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson of "Potter" fame.

Council candidate (and ineffective school headmaster) Colin Wall nicely represents the middle-class suburban dad element of the village. He is thrust in the limelight to provide the voice of integrity that Fairbrother represents but is not up to the task.

Wall's delinquent son Stuart is one of the most entertaining characters in "Vacancy." He is as very open regarding his seemingly constant urgent sexual desires as he is about his smoking of a form of marijuana that apparently smells like toilet bowl cleaner.

The hilarious humor that Stuart provides includes a very bold sexual encounter in the local library that stains both the philosophy section and the reputation of Colin. Additionally, Stuart's style of "campaigning" outside the polling place on election day is one of the best scenes in the film. In both respects, he is reminiscent of a young Keanu Reeves in his art-house film days.

Simon Price, who is the half-brother of Barry, represents the blue-collar working-class. He is a dishonest employee and mentally and physically abusive father to teen son (and Barry admirer) Andrew. All of this makes the revenge that Andrew enjoys throughout the series equally enjoyable to the audience.

Brilliant screenwriter (and "EastEnders" veteran) Sarah Phelps makes a good choice in centering these stories around welfare-class teen girl Krystal Weedon. Krystal is the daughter of meth addict Terri Weedon and sister/surrogate mother to young Robbie Weedon. Her role largely makes her the center of the story due to it directly or indirectly connecting her with most of her fellow Pagfordites,

On  a larger level, the path that leads to the climatic election is chock full of the best elements of great British drama, humor and Campbell-style creepy surrealism. Personal relationships feel the strain, images of death increasingly haunt one character, teens act like teens everywhere, and battles between good and evil rage on. In other words, life as usual in 2015.

The appeal of all this extends beyond a skilled adaptation of a novel by arguably the most successful author of the 21st century. It provides delectable food for thought while making you laugh, cringe, and emphasize with the fictional counterparts of the people in your life.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Vacancy" is welcome to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.