Actually, I've Decided To Become Cranky
Posted 27 November 2008 in Books by Catriona
I’ve written numerous posts, going right back to the first month of this blog, about my frustration with adaptations of Agatha Christie.
Now, to be fair, I don’t recall ever having seen the Joan Hickson adaptations of the Miss Marple stories, which Nick holds in high regard. And I do rather like David Suchet as Poirot. It’s the mucking around with the plots that drives me mad—when Christie is such a careful plotter.
But my recent reading of Reginald Hill, which I alluded to in my last post, is what’s got me thinking here: Hill isn’t treated any better by adaptors than Christie has been.
And so here’s a rant.
Why are Hill’s books treated just as poorly as Christie’s in adaptations?
Here’s a shortlist of things they’ve done to Hill’s books that have annoyed me:
- They separated Pascoe and Ellie.
Now, my understanding is that the actress wanted to leave. All well and good. That doesn’t mean the character has to leave. I’m not partial to recasting myself, but it’s a fairly common technique. Or the character could simply cease to play a significant role in the stories and have faded into the background, heard but not seen.
As far as I recall from a newspaper article at the time of this change (I can’t remember when or where I read it, unfortunately), Colin Buchanan (who played Pascoe) was furious about the change, as well: he felt it played into all the standard stereotypes about television policemen being entirely unable to sustain personal relationships.
And I think he’s right.
Ellie was an important part of the balance of the books: she disapproved strongly of Pascoe’s job but was able to juxtapose that against her desire for a sustained relationship with him, and the way in her engagement with his profession mutates as the books move from 1970 to (at last count) 2008 and the nature of the police force alters is actually one of the aspects of the novels that interests me the most.
And the separation was done is such a daft way, as I recall. For Ellie to then move to the United States with their daughter? (Did they, I wonder, omit the subplot about her father having Alzheimer’s? Because surely she wouldn’t have left if he were still ill.) And for Pascoe to move in with Dalziel? (Why? He didn’t need to live with Dalziel before he was married, so why would he not be able to afford a place on his own now, when he’s significantly higher in rank and, presumably, in pay?)
- On a similar note, why did they drop Wieldy? I stopped watching before this happened, but it still annoyed me.
As with Ellie, Wieldy is a centrally important figure in the books: in later novels, where the focus is on newcomers to the CID, generally fairly low-ranked officers such as Shirley Novello and Hat Bowler, Dalziel, Pascoe, and Wield are known as the Holy Trinity.
Take one away from the Trinity, and it loses balance.
Again, I assume the actor wanted to leave: in fact, I see that he only worked irregularly after leaving the show in 2002 and retired from the profession in 2006 for health reasons.
That’s a shame: he was excellent in the role.
Nevertheless, Wieldy was central to the shape and feel of the books: if you have to abandon two major characters, maybe that’s when you need to start thinking about whether or not the programme is still viable.
- And for my final whinging point, why did they continue the series after they’d worked their way through all the extant novels?
The later storylines were so far removed from the style and panache of Hill’s writing that I wasn’t even faintly compelled to keep watching, no matter how good the actors were.
Oh, I know complaining about this sort of thing is futile.
And I do know that adaptations aren’t going to be identical to the book: I don’t expect that.
But I am thinking of starting up a small society—very exclusive—called “Well, If You Aren’t Going To Pay Any Attention To The Feel Of The Original Books, Why Not Just Call It Something Else?”
I don’t think I’ll get a usable acronym out of it, though.