How does the BBC adaptation of The Casual Vacancy compare to JK Rowling’s original novel?

It's notoriously difficult to please fans of a book with a TV adaptation - but screenwriter Sarah Phelps may just have done it this time says Kasia Delgado

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TV and film adaptations of popular novels can have it tough, with readers often up in arms about the ruining of a brilliant book. And perhaps Sarah Phelps’s adaptation of JK Rowling’s work will cause the same furore with those who feel she’s left out important moments, misunderstood a character or changed the ending too much.

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But as someone who’s read the book and seen The Casual Vacancy, I think the three-part BBC1 series has done justice to Rowling’s work – and possibly even made it better.

Of course, fans of the novel will get a shock when they’re confronted with some of the major differences in the TV version, but I suspect that many will approve of these changes. 

In an interview with the Radio Times, Phelps said that Rowling was happy to let her do her job; that the Harry Potter writer read all the drafts, but essentially left the TV experts to it. And it’s really paid off.

JK Rowling’s book is a complex and desperately bleak novel. It rarely lets up. But Phelps, a former EastEnders writer, has thrown some comedy into the characters – even in their darkest moments – which provides some much-need TV warmth on a Sunday night in chilly February.

Phelps has also made some big decisions by leaving out various characters and embellishing others. The book is complex and packed with people who never even meet each other, so to incorporate them all would have made for some very dry viewing. On the other hand, Phelps’s adaptation renders Rowling’s already well-drawn central characters beautifully vivid. 

Without giving too much away, Phelps’ ending is more redemptive, less tragic, and the fact that the hero Barry Fairbrother (Rory Kinnear) is allowed to survive beyond the first few moments gives audiences something greater to invest in. Phelps chose to make him a very real presence on screen, interacting with several of the key players.

“I had to make Barry very present,” she explained at a screening of the drama. “In the book he’s dead very quickly and he doesn’t come back. I wanted us to get to know Barry better by keeping him in longer and by seeing him again when he revisits in ghostly form. We need more time to get to know him – to really feel his loss when gone.”

The Casual Vacancy begins on Sunday 15th February at 9pm on BBC1

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What are your thoughts on The Casual Vacancy? If you’ve read the book, what do you think of the adaptation? If you’re new to the village of Pagford, will you be tuning in next week? Let us know in the comments box below.