(To be read in the style of a Craig Charles “Gogglebox”voiceover) “In a week where a Cookery Programme found its own soggy bottom and lost over four million viewers by switching to Channel 4 we watched lots of great telly”. I was one of those missing four million as I decided not to tune in to the revamped “Great British Bakeoff”, the first time I have ever missed an episode. Sometimes you have to take a stance!
I did, however, watch BBC1’s Bank Holiday potential crowd-pleaser, “Strike- The Cuckoo’s Calling”, the first two episodes of a three parter based on the JK Rowling 2013 thriller written as Robert Galbraith. I was a little late getting to the novel, having only read it earlier this year and my motivation for doing so was because I had heard about the tv adaptation and wanted to experience the book first. I wanted my own pictures to form in my head. I really enjoyed the book and in my review focused in on the warmth and humour in the relationship between down-on-his-luck private detective Cormoran Strike and temporary secretary, Robin.
Much hinged I felt on the casting of Strike, an undeniably larger-than-life character. I got the impression of a kind of man-mountain from the book and at six foot Tom Burke doesn’t quite have the bulk that was in my head. Best known to me as Dolokhov in the BBC1 “War and Peace”extravaganza, he is perhaps generally best known as swashbuckling Athos in “The Three Musketeers” series. The 36 year old son of noted thespians Anna Calder-Marshall and David Burke has scooped one of the most prestigious TV roles of the year with the other Galbraith novels already having been filmed for later transmission.
Within the first half-hour Burke had become Cormoran Strike as the book-derived image in my head faded and he became the perfect fit. Not quite as convinced by Holliday Granger as Robin, but that will come in time. After her turn as Lucrezia Borgia in “The Borgias” I’m finding it hard to trust her wholesomeness. In the first two episodes there was a little less Robin than I was expecting- we had less of her putting her mark onto the office than I remembered from the book and a little less of developing the relationship between the two characters although it took only the odd glance from Strike to make us realise how valuable she is making herself to his enterprise.
Characters nicely established the plot followed along expected lines. The presence of acting heavyweights, the great Sian Phillips and Martin Shaw in the cast gave the whole thing kudos and showed the BBC’s commitment to the project. I was a little concerned after the TV adaptation of “SS-GB” which the BBC had sat upon after filming and put it out without a great deal of fanfare where it limped along somewhat in dark scenes and mumbled lines, but this was altogether a very different proposition. Liked the music, liked the opening credits, which gave it a moodiness and recalled the opening of some of those great ITC Entertainment series like “Man In A Suitcase” and “Danger Man”. In days of technological glossy thrillers this seemed pleasantly old-fashioned, making it perfect Bank Holiday viewing, when we don’t want anything too demanding.
There was always going to be an issue with Strike’s false leg and there was a “how did they do that?” moment as well as some obvious cut-aways. The leg almost feels like a character in the novel so I was pleased it was given air-time here. It was hard to forget that the television Strike had lost a leg, just as it is in the novel. I wondered if three episodes would cause the plot to rattle along too quickly but it established a good, steady pace. I wonder if the decision to film “The Silkworm” and “Career of Evil” as two-parters will impact on the overall pace. I hope they are going to be hour-longs and not “feature length” as the hour long format seems most fitting for this. I wasn’t as struck on the book of “The Silkworm” which will air on television straight after “Cuckoo’s Calling”- I felt it was overlong, so perhaps two episodes will suffice. It is a much darker piece and it will be interesting to see how it translates to Sunday evening television. I’ve yet to read “Career Of Evil” but I am pushing it up the To Be Read list so I can get to it before it is shown.
With two parts down of “The Cuckoo’s Calling” and one to go I’m looking forward to the conclusion of this. To be honest, even though I only read the book six months or so ago some of the plot details have blurred in my mind so I’m getting plenty of enjoyment as the story unfolds. It does seem perfect for television, will push up sales further of the three novels and is likely to give the BBC another big worldwide hit.
Strike- The Cuckoo’s Calling is shown on Sundays at 9pm on BBC1. The final episode is due to air on the 3rd September. Previous episodes are available on the BBC I-Player. “The Silkworm” is due to be transmitted from Sunday 10th.