Strike: The Silkworm

An irreverent look at this case which today is about the murder of a novelist and the intrigues of the book publishing world. In other words Rowling, by the second book, was out of ideas and wrote what she knew – just like Stephen King does by having all his protagonists be writers of one flavour or another. Written by J. K. Rwoling under her pseudonym Robert Galbraith i.e. the pseudonym everyone tends to forget to use when referring to the author of the C.B. Strike series of crime fiction novels.

So is this a veiled jab at people Rowling herself, under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith though everyone knows it’s her, encountered in her career? We can only wonder.

Long story short this case is ‘wanker writer got killed for being a complete wanker and everyone around him in the publishing world was somewhere on the sliding scale of wankerdom themselves’. There are no likeable characters – pitiable ones yes – but no likeable ones. Except Strike and even then that’s more because he’s the leading man and isn’t an arsehole to anyone intentionally unless they ‘deserve it’ in Rowling’s mind.

[Editorial note: Did you see this broadcast on the BBC on the 10th and 17th August 2017? Did you see this elsewhere when it was first aired? Guess what – I typed notes the hour after the broadcast and only now got around to tidying them up so if this is in any way mildly inaccurate… roll with it please for humour’s sake.]


Part 1 (Episode 3 of the short series).

Today Robin happily risks her future marriage as she still has dreams of being a private dick… although as we will see the dickishness of last time wasn’t an isolated event and she only escalates further down the rabbit hole of being a Mary Sue.

We open with a mystery woman reading an article in a magazine, cutting it out and pinning it to her chest then putting her head in the oven to commit suicide. What’s that? ‘It sounds exactly like how Sylvia Plath killed herself’ I hear you mention? Yes, yes it does doesn’t it? Rowling is going meta-intertextual on us. Be in awe of her post-modernist genius! And I’ll ruin the little mystery of this stinger by telling you now that the mystery woman wrote a book which was parodied by a more successful author, Owen Quine, and this drove her to suicide. Or did it? Yes, yes it did – there was a corpse found in the kitchen. But did Quine author the parody? That’s the subplot of this murder investigation and the key to solving it. Thus Quine becomes the ‘main case’ murder victim and the woman’s husband a, if not the main, murder suspect. The adaption clearly wanted to get your attention but you don’t get context for this scene until far, far, later.

At the core of this investigation is the anonymous distribution of Quine’s Bombyx Mori a controversial manuscript in which its protagonist, ‘Bombyx’, is a writer who is repeatedly abused, tormented and ultimately eaten alive by the people in his life whilst going to extraordinary lengths to capture and preserve his talent for their own selfish gains. Bombyx is Owen Quine and all the caricatures in the book are the people around him in the literary world he hated and felt were feeding off his success. Yeah, no, this couldn’t possibly be Rowling venting a little whatsoever…

Did you think there would be different introduction music for each case? Well apparently not. I mean they paid for one song. What do you think they’re made of money? That in adapting a sure-fire ratings winner being shown on the BBC they could afford to take that extra step so it’s the start of a separate case and not ‘episode 3’ of an ongoing series? (Who do you think they are? Netflix?) But surely you realise that’s how TV adaptions of ongoing crime novel series are! Can you name the different cases of Morse? No. Anything by Agatha Christie doesn’t count as you tend to learn those by social osmosis so ‘case theme tunes’ are pointless.

[instrumental] Me and you… you and me… we’re in this together… we definitely don’t have sexual tension and will end up together, by the end, though it all, you clearly don’t love your fiancé, and I’m clearly single… you and me… me and you… solving cases, knowing one day you’ll steal my clients, if our relationship breaks down, once you’re qualified as a private detective… [fade out]

Next Strike is with his ex and she asks how he can still love her. But it was a dream. It’s always a dream. He’s a disgruntled protagonist. His lot in life is not to be happy. Ever. Just like real people but only more so.

He’s in a cramped loft/attic conversion bedroom. Robin pops in to wake him up… so he’s living in her attic? I mean the rooms never given context so… um,yes? And yet her fiancé has never met him… Or it’s a side room of the office… but that’s not as amusing to imagine and if it was he didn’t use it during the Cuckoo case.

This is followed by a mystery man walking through an office to meet another mystery man. Who are they? You won’t have a clue when we get to the next scene so it’s all smoke and mirrors which is meaningless as you’ll have forgotten what they said in a few minutes. It was Daniel Chard, the president of Roper Chard (played by Tim McInnerny a.k.a. Percy off Blackadder who everyone forgets because Hugh Laurie replaced his ‘role’ on the series as being the nice but dim upper class figures) and the publisher but good luck remembering their names. Daniel Chard says he, the other man in the office, Quine’s alcoholic editor, Jerry Waldegrave wrote the letter. Ooh intrigue. And yes I’ve had to go look up the names as all at once the ‘literary world’ characters are interchangeable looking and yet each has a very different position within it though really they could all have their dialogue said by the wrong person and you wouldn’t notice except Elizabeth whose clearly bitterness and miasma of cigarette smoke makes her distinct.

Back with Strike he has a pushy client called Mr Baker complaining. Once he’s gone Strike calls him a tosser and tells him to settle the bill of services he’s accrued. Yes that character’s name I remembered and yet any names from now on have had the help of Wikipedia to confirm. Next the dead author’s wife, Leonora Quine, comes and needs his services.

Unlike a film noir detective she ain’t a leggy dame whose legs go on and on for miles and won’t quit running through the gritty detective’s mind ‘cuz them’s ain’t just legs them’s gams!’ Nope she’s a housewife, maybe even a just barely allowable ‘TV ugly’ looking woman as they’ve made the actress look as plain as possible in bagging clothing, unflattering glasses and such to the point you wonder if Rowling spent a page or two languishing over a detailed description of how normal she looked in contrast to all the glamorous people from the Cuckoo case. ‘Look I can write normal, working class, people too!’ she declares to the one person on an obscure internet forum (or Twitter) she chanced upon in the early hours of the morning. Even if she does write them as if they have severe emotional problems or one track minds she can write them… sort of… but they need some single characteristic to make them vile to the reader’s refined middle-class sensibilities. COUGHtheblowjobwomanwhohelpedStrikeoutlasttimeCOUGH.

Leonora, which is a fancy name for such a ‘look how boringly normal she is’ character to be honest, said her husband went to a retreat called Bigly Hall and has been away ten days.

Strike phones the retreat pretending he is doing so on grounds he is giving Owen a medical report. Owen isn’t there. Strike, who seems fed up of having work, says he won’t charge and see her out though she protests. Who needs an income? Robin tells him who she was, who Owen Quine is… blah blah blah you know the usual ‘Rowling thinks female heroines are walking databases’ stereotype though in Robyn’s case she is using an online search engine (not at all Google of course otherwise they might have to pay some form of royalties) and looking at an encyclopedia entry (not at all Wikipedia for the same reason… in fact she might be reading the wiki page for the Strike TV series… and reading spoilers on some pages so she’s one step ahead of the game).

Then they go for drinks. Because that’s what people do after work as far as TV land is concerned. No one is ever tired, hungry or has responsibilities in day-to-day life… I’ve seen it done on Casualty and Holby City too to name one other ‘drama series’ that has this sort of mentality. Work is life. Work will set you free. Welcome the freedom of death. In the meantime get drunk in the evening to numb the existential angst of the middle class malaise.

But they take the case as Leonora insists upon it. Robin is pushed back twice to no avail. The police won’t help so Strike HAS to help. Because he has the protagonist disease which affects him like a very specific form of OCD where he is compelled to help people in need…

Thus literary agent Elizabeth Tassel appears on the scene at the pub, but not the same pub as during the Cuckoo case, and we get her life story all in one go though no one asked for it. We get her life story every time she is on-screen. Why do we learn so much about her and her hatred of the industry she works in? Have you guessed yet? No… well okay we can wait a little longer as this is only the first strike over the head we’ve got so far.

She is a failed writer who became a literary agent. She lives and works on the fringe of the London literary community, which she deeply resents, and expresses by bullying her staff. She smokes a lot and has a dog that’s very ill. She’s a bit of a bitch so is immediately unlikable anyway. Also she is smoking in a public space which you would think would have a member of staff telling her to stop, her giving a ‘witty’ putdown and then the staff member saying ‘No… really… you need to put that out according to the British law because you can go do one if you think we’re going to get fined because of you’.

She can help. But she won’t help. Does she have a reason? Hmm do you think there’s a reason she won’t help? Is she perhaps contrasting someone from the first case who was too helpful?

DO YOU KNOW WHAT ROLE SHE PLAYS IN THE STORY YET?

She claims she fired Owen as he wrote a thinly disguised attack on the people around him which made the manuscript unpublishable. Strike notices an old black and white photo of her and other authors. Why it’s not in colour as most if not all cameras by that point were colour ones would have been I don’t know… just that convention dictates ‘old photos must be sepia or monochrome’ in TV land. Which means anyone who possesses a monochrome photo is doomed to suffering by default as if it instantly becomes a cursed object.

Owen taught a creative writing course. He considered Liz a hinderance. Then she mentions her dog’s poo is like rocks. DOGGIE DUN A POO POO! DATZ FUNNY!

She asks a waiter for green tea. He asks if it’s for the dog. No, she replies sharply, it’s for her – for her throat. Well yeah if you’re going to wave your dog about in a restaurant and ask for a drink while doing so the staff are going to leap to conclusions inevitably. You see a lot of odd people in the service industry just by sheer force of numbers you come into contact with so this kind of request is expected. Also green tea isn’t going to solve that throat cancer you’ll be getting one day since you smoke like an industrial era chimney Liz…

Back in the office Robin is ‘working’ by watching an interview of Owen’s on ‘Not-YouTube’ and remarks to Strike that Quine wasn’t a fan of short sentences. [Unlike Rowling who is criticising some unknown writer it can be assumed… part of me secretly wishes it was David Foster Wallace – someone who is dead and whose legacy is secured as one of the truly great writers while for all her money she will never be held in anywhere near the same esteem as him… and at least it would explain the treatment of the dog by the end if you know how fond Wallace was of dogs…].

Strike takes this moment to do a job evaluation and have a slight heart to heart with her. He tells Robin she is worth more than he is paying her and that they’re in debt again. How?

Okay… more importantly:

  1. How many employers have ever said such a thing to an employee? Only one’s who want something. And by something I mean unpaid work or beginning a tryst via flattery.

  2. How the hell is he in debt again when he has to turn away business he is so overwhelmed with people seeking his help?! It’s never explained.

So the editor (or someone else) is at Quine’s house unseen by the audience. He leaves and Leonora says he smelt of wine. What does that have to do with anything? Nothing. It’s a red herring. The guy likes a drink and spilt some on himself… not that the story ever clears that up.

Meanwhile Robin is in a bookshop. Why? Because the theme of this investigation is literature… um… that’s it. Rowling’s the only author who could write about a book shop and make it seem as interesting as IKEA’s ‘zone of boxed flatpacks’ next to the checkouts. Robin doesn’t discover anything.

Liz visits Robert…

Um… okay… at this point I should note a lot of the book characters got cut out and I think some must have been amalgamated. The adaption has a guy called Robert but that’s not on the Wikipedia page. Anyway the woman in the stinger who committed suicide was his wife.

So word is he has read Quine’s manuscript of Bombyx Mori. Then its noted her dog is shitting on the lavender in his garden. IT’S FUNNY CUZ DA DOGGIE DUNNA ANOTHER POO POO AND SHE DON’T CARE LOLZ! ROFLCOPTER! … and in other words the mentality of the following level of humour regarding repition of a simple joke:

but in fact it’s not just humour but a clue as to… if you haven’t figured out yet I won’t tell you. Someone’s a bad egg and we all know animal cruelty is ‘Bad Person behaviour 101’.

Strike is with Leonora and Liz visits him. Leonora thinks Owen was, as usual, sleeping around, shagging around (wombling free, the Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we)… whatever you want to call it he wasn’t faithful because apparently writers get fangirls willing to sleep with them all the time. (So… meta-narrative time: Did Rowling get a lot of offers from her fans?) Which is a good time to mention Stephen King’s novel Misery…

for no reason except, you know, I just want you to remember there’s a dark side to fandom… it’s not all fans wanting to crawl up inside you like eels.

some want to cause harm due to obsession. Moving on.

So walking down the road Strike sees a newspaper kiosk. Shocking! Who knew those still existed in this day and age?

But that wasn’t the focus. He sees his ex, Charlotte, has done a photo shoot with her new husband for the May cover of a gossip magazine. ‘Hello’, ‘Now’… you know the sort. The ones you see ancient editions of in the waiting rooms of doctor and dentist surgeries… So old that you have ‘these two celebs got together, then under a mouldy children’s book the ‘they’ve had kids’ edition and in someone else’s hands across the room the ‘they’ve had a divorce’ edition sometimes all three published during the same year. Well it seems his ex met and got engaged in what seemed a matter of days or a fortnight during the last case so to be honest he should be happy he got rid of her.

On a side note: if she isn’t the victim of one of the later novels I will be surprised. Either that or she turns out to be the murderer – thus further enforcing the ‘it’s Strike and Robin’s destinies to be together forever [in accordance with authorial mandate]’ storyline Rowling keeps dropping hints about. Saying that Robin’s fiance is also high on the list of likely ‘series long’ characters up for a ‘dull shock’ murder of a long time cast member. Put money on it. It’s certain to be one of them if not both.

Next we see a woman burning pages in an outdoor fire. This is Katherine or Pippa… or an amalgamation of the two. She isn’t that important really.

At the pub Strike finally meets Robin’s fiancé Matthew Cunliffe. Get it? Cunliffe because, as heavy-handed as her caricaturisation is of him Rowling couldn’t get away with calling him the four letter word outright.

So Matt asks if Strike plays rugby and then talks about rugby a lot. Because he is a man and men play rugby. Rugger bugger. Strike jokes he used to be his highschool champ. (Wait… did England have high schools before recently? It’s a very American term for secondary school a.k.a. Comprehensive for the approximate age of the character). I guess Robin never mentioned the leg issue as the joke falls flat. Unless Strike was being serious in which case add it to the pile of ‘I can’t write characters who are not the very best in every single thing they do’ which, for Strike alone includes him being in the military police, the son of a rock star, Robin being… Robin and so on.

Robin and Matt have been together 9 years. I take it that’s meant to suggest that they never married because they didn’t feel like making that step rather than because they couldn’t afford to. They’re to wed in eight weeks. BECAUSE THEY’RE NOT DESTINIED TO BE! BECAUSE OMG, WTF, STRIKExROBIN IS THE OP! LIKE STRIN / ROKE SHIPPING! SO ROKE! CORMORANxROBIN = CORBIN… (um, wait… like the current Labour political party leader’s surname but ‘I’ instead of ‘y’… that’s a little cunning a political leanings suggestion hidden in there). STRIKE IS SO HER TYPE! STRIKE NEEDS A WOMAN LIKE HER TO FIX HIM! Etc, etc…

Matt jokes she was the only half fit girl with brains at school/university. Because yeah that’s how you write guys in relationships… I mean I hear that sort of joke made but under no context is it funny. Rowling has serious issues and is venting about someone she knew. Rowling just wants to make sure that at no point will we consider him even a flawed human being – he’s an obstacle to be overcome for Strike and Robin to be together. It’s not even subtle. I can only imagine he might get the old ‘redemption in death’ treatment somewhere down the line if he’s lucky. Matt also speaks derisively about detective work… because [rinse and repeat earlier ‘non-case related antagonism’ comments].

Strike goes to the bar to get a drink and offers to buy them a round. While he’s away, in what seems to be a distance of about 6 metres, Matt criticises him. Robin is sad as she could move up the ladder… really? How about ‘Matt shut up he’s stood right there’ or ‘shut up he’s a decent bloke’ or… not being a single-minded, career focused, selfish cow? She and Matt deserve each other. Matt doesn’t want Strike at the wedding. So either the adaption really failed to get across the animosity here or it’s poor heavy handed writing. Any way you look at it Matt is a pantomime villain in the level of complexity given to his character. A few months earlier in the Tom Hardy series Taboo they had a character who every time he came on-screen used racial slurs on the main character for being mixed race and it’s about the same level of writing albeit against a disabled man rather than a mixed race man.

Strike looks at the wedding invite he’s been given. He recalls Charlotte and her claim she was pregnant once when he broke up with her. Was she? Wasn’t she? We never know as she is an almost never seen satellite character.

The next day Strike mockingly calls Robin by her middle name. She tells him it was because she was conceived in Venice. Why do people get told such things? ‘Oh such fond memories of your dad and I rutting like wild rabbits while in Tuscany’. No, no one wants to know that sort of thing – especially not Tim Upagainstthebikeshedbehindthechippy’ Bristols, Gordon ‘slagheap’ Wells or Julie ‘Cockett’ Mouth…

Someone keeps a blog. Strike, when asked by Robin, is polite and says Matt seemed like a nice bloke.

Robin finds Katherine, a.k.a miss page burner.

They go visit her and she says she though she and Owen were friends until she read the book. Yeah she’s just a narrative device so not even worth flippant commentary…

Back at the office they find out Owen co-owned a house with Joe North, an American writer (with an All-American name) friend of Quine and Fancourt. He died of AIDS while writing about his experiences living with the disease. After lying abandoned for twenty years, the house where North died became the scene of Quine’s murder. I had to look that up as the information is thrown at you so fast and matter of factly you’ll miss it. It doesn’t have any great bearing on events but it is odd finding what bits they feel the need to tell you about and which bits they omit or skim over quickly.

Leonora gives them keys to the house. It’s never brought up who else has keys to the house and it’s one of the things they never bring up again despite that being something you would want to know about considering the circumstances while eliminating lines of enquiry. Leonora mentions she also has a copy of Bombyx Mori as it was left anonymously on the doorstep. It’s noted that this is odd considering a copy would be in the house already, as this is Owen’s home, and Owen kept numerous filing boxes filled with ideas for various books so Leonora would definitely have a copy of the manuscript somewhere in the house already. Owen and Leonora have a daughter named Orlando. To me Orlando is a male name, e.g. Orlando Bloom, but maybe it’s genderless and so fine – albeit it’s no doubt another ‘commemorating where we had sex’ name by the parents… She has down’s syndrome. She is the only person who doesn’t have a character based on them in Bombyx Mori implying she was the only person he truly cared for. So.. you know… even a nasty bastard can have redeeming qualities. That or he didn’t even consider her to have agency and thus was more a pet than child. But they dodgy that implication. [Although, arguably the ‘real’ writer of those controversial bits of Bombyx just didn’t know of the girl or chose not to write of her.]

Orlando likes to draw and steal things. She misses her dad and it’s not clear if she understands he is dead.

Strike introduces himself and notes he is named after an Irish giant. I can’t help but remember the whole Viktor Crumb thing in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire where Rowling felt the need to correct people’s’ pronunciation of the name Hermione. It was fine then since it was a book series aimed primarily at children, with a far more limited range of dictional variants to call upon, but here she is definitely speaking down to the audience ‘look at the references I’m making – I’m so smart and have such a wide breadth of knowledge you can’t keep up so I need to put it in simple terms for you’. No… it’s just Cormoran is a rare name outside of Irish circles. I mean just because you choose rare names for characters that doesn’t make your writing better. If I called a character Islwyn ap Morgannwg that doesn’t mean my audience are stupid because they don’t know ap Morgannwg means ‘of Glamorgan’ but just because they’re unfamiliar with the cultural reference. The fact she has explained Robin’s middle name and Strike’s first name screams that she is trying too hard and just feels the overwhelming need to speak down to her audience.

Also Matt doesn’t care for Cormoran’s name. Because Matt is a bad man. Have you realised that yet or does he need to go into the town square and kill some puppies Caligula style before you’ll accept it? Rowling doesn’t think you do yet.

Strike reads the manuscript. On the screen grim imagery flashes depicting the Marquis de Sade style scenes of the book. Well it’s more de Sade crossed with Clive Barker and a side of Bret Easton Ellis I guess. So instead he watches the football. Because he’s a bloke and football is the default for relaxing television what with the inevitable screaming at the TV when your team isn’t doing well. Football for the common man, rugby for the elite – unless your Welsh in which cae rugby is treated like a religion. Hence it’s another Strike/Matt contrast. The next day he asks Robin to read the book.

Meanwhile he goes to the co-owned house which he finds is in ruins internally.

Here he finds the mutilated corpse of Owen Quine disembowelled and arranged like the cocoon a butterfly or moth has emerged from.

He photos it… because that’s another habit of his besides going to the pub for a pint and watching football. Because that’s what men do – just like women drink wine, are eternally fascinated by shoes, enjoy afternoon teas and watch soap operas in Rowlingland. This is Rowling’s standard of writing nuanced caricaturisation. Broad enough people can identify with it as it’s so blandly unimaginative you would forget the characters five minutes later if her name wasn’t plastered all over it.

He then phones Robin to tell her Owen is dead. It’s grim. Imagine one of the crime scenes from the film Se7en. Robin comes over and looks too. She, unused to crime scene viscera, has no reaction to it which is a bit psychotic really. In fact it’s incredibly suspicious. I secretly hope she turns out to be a villain later in the series. She shows Strike the book and he reads the ending of it. It’s exactly like the crime scene before them as it involves people tearing out Owen’s innards.

Matt calls Robin. His mother is dead. She had a stroke. Robin leaves to be at his side. Strike asks her to relay that he’s sorry for Matt’s loss.

Later Strike is chatting to Detective Steve at Richard’s house and the forensics is too difficult to process due to the use of acid which has all but stopped them using that for evidence. All they know is that there was a woman with a duffel bag seen coming to the property and leaving there.

POP QUIZ: How many female characters, assuming it wasn’t a transsexuals or transvestite, have we seen so far? Who can we eliminate from the inquiry? So is the murderer:

  • The bitter and twisted Elizabeth (with her dog whose got bowel issues mentioned whenever she appears CUZ DAT FUNNY… though it isn’t really).

  • The worried wife (who, if she did it, will have done exactly the same as the previous case’s murderer having needlessly brought Strike’s attention to the case and would have got away with it otherwise… just like a Scooby Doo villain).

  • The downs syndrome daughter (who loves her dad thus would be setting depictions of disabled people back about 50 years as ‘dangers to society’ who can’t be trusted to not act violently if left unsupervised and should be locked away in asylums so society may forget about them as was the case back then alongside single mothers, politically disagreeable elements, artistic sorts and anyone else who just ‘wasn’t our sort’ to ‘normal’ middle class people).

  • The disenfranchised student/friend/lover (who got the book after the fact to give her motive for the murder).

  • The rejected male to female transsexual lover (who is actually missing from the TV adaption hence why you thought I was being pedantic when mentioning transsexuals earlier).

  • Or it could be a man mistaken for a woman. It could be. It isn’t… But it could be.

It’s brought up that Leonora was a fan of Owen’s writing and was a butcher’s daughter in Hay-on-Wye before their marriage. So:

  1. Hay-on-Wye is a town of bookshops in Wales. She couldn’t come from somewhere more likely – No, it had to be from the town of books because this story’s theme is literature. Funny that really as she isn’t Welsh sounding but then there are so many wannabe Bohemian English people in that town it is technically an English town in Wales.

  2. There’s a hint of elitism here as this is revealed as if it’s something that should cause shock in the reader not seen since the Victorian sensationalist novels. How could a common butcher’s daughter be married to a successful author? It’s presented like there is some other aspect to it we are not told of. I assume in the book there’s some mention Owen knocked her up while at the annual literature festival in town and felt pressured into making an honest woman of her and the result of their union was their daughter. But the TV adaption skips that completely unless it was said so quickly in passing I missed it.

Strike says he knows the killer read the book. So we can remove a few of the remaining suspects can’t we? Apparently Owen and Leonora had an argument out on the street but Strike thinks Leonora wouldn’t have the ingenuity to commit the killing. Why is not explained. Working class people are cattle who can’t do something as elaborate as this sort of revenge murder. That’s the underlying message again from Rowling. Leonora throughout the case is presented as someone who is barely capable of coherent thought let alone being proactive in matters. She is presented almost as in need of care as much as her daughter if I’m honest as the show does everything in its power to demean her.

If you ever saw Harry Enfield’s depiction of the working class throughout his various sketch shows I feel this is very much in that ilk except it’s at the expense of the subject and not at the prejudice elitist arrogance of the ones observing.

Meanwhile Matt and Robin are in tears in their bedroom. He’s crying for his loss. Robin is crying she isn’t out and about playing detective as Strike’s sidekick.

Strike interviews Leonora but he can’t help her with the case. Police found photos. They take Lenora away into custody as the prime suspect. She screams out, Orlando becomes distressed, and Leonora is dragged away in tears. Leonora fears for her daughter as it’s only ever been her and Owen caring for their daughter. Except there is someone. Who they are isn’t known as they’re played by an extra whose presumably from social services. In fact that raises far more questions than it should but we never spend even a second on it.

In the next scene its morning and Robin makes Matt breakfast. He asks her to get the day off work. She tells him she will ask. Strike emails her at 5AM about the case. He then calls her and asks how Matt is doing. Because Strike’s a decent human being who wants to get on with both of them. He even tells Robin, unprompted, to take as much time as she likes. However, offended, she counters that they’ve already had clients complain because they’re behind schedule with their ongoing investigations. Um… no. Stay with your man in his hour of need Robin. Honestly Strike can’t win. He is considerate of a guy whose constantly belligerent to him, Robin is openly aiming to become a detective and likely take his client base from him after he’s paid for her training (which is what she wants to happen). He would be better off going back to doing it all by himself really. (and he kind of does later on in a later case but that’s a story for another time…).

So this is part one of this case’s ‘moments we are not meant to dislike Robin though we clearly will’. I mean seriously. I know there are people who justify themselves saying ‘oh I needed to get out of there! They were being so miserable.’ Well yes that’s what grieving is unsurprisingly. If he was like that six months down the line fine but Matt just lost his mother so I think he’s allowed a free pass for the moment to grieve. Rowling really just has some odd perspectives on things like this. Yes Matt is a thoroughly unlikable guy but to have Robin make excuses to leave him grieve alone is cruel. We get it. She really wants to be a detective and is single-minded in that pursuit but you can’t brush off this sort of behaviour time after time throughout the stories.

Strike has a meeting arranged with a man in Devon and Robin insists she will drive them there (in a hire car). And she does. As if you can just walk up and get a hire car instantly. Strike says why Devon. Robin remarks at least it’s not Cornwall. What, did Rowling have a bad experience in Cornwall too? That’s a bit out of left field save that it’s a further drive. She really is venting through this book it feels and the adaptions not being able to cover everything though no doubt some stuffs been left out.

They arrive at Daniel Chard’s country house with modern internal décor and are asked to take their shoes off before entering. Then Daniel, who has injuries to his hands from broken glass, says actually Strike doesn’t need to due to his leg. Daniel gets his… Thai?… servant to make coffee.

Daniel only wishes to speak to Strike so Robin goes to the kitchen. Sidekicks in the kitchen then. Send the woman to the kitchen… Rowling the feminist adhering to traditional gender role room allocation in a house.

Daniel reveals that Owen had an accomplice. He knows because there are things in the book which Owen couldn’t have known about. There is a reward of £10,000. This reward is never brought up again nor if Strike gets it when he dicovers the other author at the end. Daniel asks Strike if he’s read the book and confides it has things about him and Andrew in it.

Andrew’s wife was the suicide at the beginning. Liz says they were close. She considered Owen a genius and she had a crush on Andrew. Info dump…

Robin goes to the toilet. Manny, the Thai servant/boyfriend, blurts out he didn’t push Daniel down the stairs but in fact he fell down them by himself. This is never expanded on. In the book it was implied Daniel was gay. Well the TV series turned that up to eleven then… it’s implied there was a lover’s quarrel prior to Strike and Robin arriving. Not much to add… they just kind of leave it there as something they added but never developed. It therefore reminded me of a scene from Sasha Baron Cohen’s film Bruno unintentionally due to how petite the guy was. The one with the fire extinguisher. Go look it up. No in fact here’s a clip. It might even be the same actor for all I know…

Daniel adds Strike, and after a moment at Strike’s insistence, Robin on the guest party list so they can meet people involved in the events. That’s convenient of course but at least somewhat believable in contrast to the last case where they just seemed to walk in everywhere with little resistance.

Later Robin and Strike meet in a cafe and recount, in public, the key points of the case. Just to make sure the audience have kept up. I expect in a later book, if they do these in public cafes, for a suspect to sit in there and overhear what they’ve found out and used it to their advantage since this is so foolish. Ignoring too their poor manners in public but speaking so loud in a small cafe too.

Robin suddenly comes out and wants to know what Strike wants – as if he owes her something apparently. He says he wanted to train her he can’t consciously do so if she’s marrying someone who hates the work. He needs a person who can do the hours and tells Robin it’s the reason he and Charlotte broke up. He would pay for a partner to go on a training course but not an assistant. Then jokes, to try to lighten the mood now he’s said this, by asking for a bite of Robin’s sandwich. Robin says it’s not a good sandwich. GET IT? SHE’S SAYING SHE’S DAMAGED GOODS SUBTEXTUALLY… also no employer has offered training without some sort of price to be paid and Robin has done nothing but badger him about becoming a detective as if he owes it to her from the moment she first entered his office as an agency paid office temp helping put his paperwork in order.

Later they’re on a country lane, in the hire car, where there is a build up of traffic as a vehicle has broken down and it’s created a bottleneck. That it didn’t completely stop the traffic was a miracle from my experience where many country lanes are barely wide enough for one vehicle let alone have enough you can create a bottle neck where there is still movement. But then I know what I’m talking about here in Wales unlike a writer who is secluded in her mansion who had a somewhat comfortable, urban focused, life beforehand.

So what does Robin do? Wait and go past the traffic issue in a few minutes like a normal person being safe on the road? No. Of course not. She reverses, drives into a field and pulls off some off-road motor rally driving stunts drifting around gates and such. Strike is of course nervous as she is doing this with the mad, glassy-eyed, smile of a sociopath mowing down pedestrians.

They get past the block in the road… all 20 metres of it down the road though Robin seemed to drive about four times that distance through the fields and probably could have made their trip that much shorter by not doubling back.

So.. yeah. Those fields are private property of the farms and she just caused what could legally be deemed property damage. They were not on a tight schedule or anything either to thinly justify this little action sequence. She just felt like it and thus did it because she got frustrated for a few minutes having to deal with the reality of traversing rural roads. Prime detective material there… no wonder Strike wanted to train her.

Strike asks what she was doing. She tells him she did an advanced driving course. She says this smugly implying ‘see I can do anything’ as if driving in a field is the same as deducing the facts of a criminal case , potentially, having an innocent person prosecuted if you’ve got your facts wrong. But let’s face it Robin is becoming a textbook case study example of sociopathic tendencies. She didn’t get what she wanted so she intimidated Strike through reckless behaviour. You can argue it was ‘girl power’ showing him she was capable but he had good reason not to arbitrarily turn to his office administrator and ask ‘why don’t you become a detective?’

Strike has a voice message on his phone. He should also have his last will and testament after Robin’s actions today if he’s sensible. Andrew says he won’t read the book and he didn’t like Owen.

Leonora is taken into prison from the house and for no real reason they have her daughter on the doorstep there to further distress the girl. Classy. I half wonder if this was some criticism of the social services depicting them negatively in the book because Rowling once, and just once, had some trouble with them before Harry Potter took off.

Robin drives to the train station, jumps out and runs to the train to go back to Matt.

Oh great. Yes, let’s pretend like you care now. She even sits in the first class carriage to make sure she doesn’t associate with the common people. In fact she comes across like the subject of Pulp’s song now I think of it. She wants the detective life but doesn’t seem to appreciate what it entails.

And in the meantime she leaves Strike stranded in the ‘loading/unloading bay’ in the car… that’s not even a joke. I’m not sure he even knows what is going on for a moment as she ditches him so suddenly.

He offers a passing Irish girl £20 if she will drive him home. That doesn’t look dodgy at all… but what else can he do? There’s a whole mini-adventure here we never see occur on-screen.

Then he gets a call about Leonora telling him she’s been taken to prison.

DUN DUN DURR.

But no really how did he get home? What was the Irish girl’s reaction? What happened after? Questions that will never be answered.


Part 2 (Episode 4 of the series).

Fun fact: I lost most of my original notes on this episode – hence the long delay after it’s broadcast to the point the next case ‘Career of Evil’ has already aired the first half – so this is mostly working off an edited compilation of scenes uploaded by Katerina Varela. Give her page and videos some support on YouTube please as they’re a great help thouh they omit anything not featuring Strike and Robin.

Robin watches an interview of Owen again. His first wife committed suicide. Nothing comes of this oddly. Maybe it was discussed more in the book.

Strike is in a mystery location. Robin calls him and asks ‘are you awake?’ when he answers. Well I don’t know if ‘sleep phone-answering’ is the 21st century version of sleepwalking but I would hesitate it’s a yes – unless his phone was stolen… They discuss the wife and she offhandedly thanks him for letting her stay a little longer with her grieving fiance… but quickly goes back to discussing the case so clearing it was just an empty courtesy and she wasn’t grateful really…

Next thing you know Strike is walking down the stairs to his office and Robin is there. He says it’s Sunday. She knows. She says ‘I think we should start taking a closer look at Andrew Fancourt, don’t you?’ which of course is a loaded question. She is dictating that they should. Honestly could she be any more thirsty to become a detective… she says she’s got his address and ‘let’s go’.

ORPHANED SCENES FROM MY ORIGINAL NOTES WHICH OCCUR AT SOME POINT DURING EPISODE TWO

  • Robin reads a section. Strike says Leonora is innocent. He even goes as far as to bet his good leg on it. If he lost the bet this would become a British remake of Ironside…

  • At the prison Strike has his female lawyer friend (who we’ve never heard of before) represent Leonora. The dilapidated house couldn’t be sold and the items used in the murder had been bought with the Quine family credit card. Her husband spoke to her of the novel. Strike warns her that could be used against her. Yes apparently it’s Strike who needs to say that and not the legally trained person he brought along. Is she just arm candy for him or as a blunt diagesis narrative excuse to explain how he got access to Leonora in the prison?
  • Leonora is angry Strike didn’t keep her out of prison. She just wants to see her daughter again.
  • He later has lunch with his half-brother in a bar. The actor, if he isn’t Tom Burke’s real life brother, looks a lot like him. They have the ‘we are related but not close though we like each other’ sort of dialogue you can expect of characters who will become more relevant later in the series once Rowling has a use for them (as murder suspects/victims most likely). The brother flirts with the waitress at this exclusive place and gets the information Strike needs as they catch up with each other.
  • We cut to Robin running in the countryside as if there’s nothing else happening in life at the moment. No doubt it’s excused as a bit of trendy mindfulness – which right now is a bit selfish really for her to be doing. Matt, still holed up at home, answers her phone when it rings. So Robin, who so desperately wants to get back on the case left her phone behind? I’ve seen plenty of runners have their phones on an armband so this seems coincidental. This convenience allows him to discover she hired a car for ‘being Strike’s taxi’. She could afford to do that but not stay and help him arrange his mother’s funeral he decides. In fairness he has a very good point as she put career (or more exactly her desire for a career she is unqualified for as of yet despite throwing it in her employers face constantly) ahead of emotional support for someone she is engaged to and you would assume loves though we are shown no signs of it. Are there any negative consequences for Robin’s decisions ever? No. No, there are not. Because Robin is perfect and untarnished in the mind of the writer.
  • Back at the prison Strike and his friend are leaving and she warns him to have no relapses regarding Charlotte. He laughs it off but indeed both wordlessly know it isn’t that easy for him. Even tertiary characters are more emotionally developed than some of the main cast… Now her use to get Strike access to Leonora is over she disappears from the story never to be seen again.
  • Strike goes to see Richard. a.k.a. Mr police detective. Strike can’t believe Leonora is stupid enough to buy a disguise. I don’t know if that’s a compliment or further needless debasement of the Leonora character. Which writer’s partner wound Rowling up the wrong way at a few dinner parties for this level of venomous writing exactly?
  • Back with Robin she and Matt are lying in bed and there is clear tension between the two. He was there for her when she needed it but clearly she can’t be there for him. (spoilers: eventually in the series it’s revealed she was raped. Hence her over compensating and need to be proactive). He tells her he doesn’t want Strike at the wedding because he wouldn’t give her a day off for personal reasons like bereavement. You can understand his view with the limited information he has but of course we’ve seen Strike be nothing but kind and actually offer all the time off she needed. Robin is manipulating both of them and there are no real consequences to her. However she admits it was her choice as she wanted to be an investigator. She justifies it saying she was doing a Psychology degree and… blah blah justifying her selfish actions. She says she ‘doesn’t want to do this’ and they make up instantly. No consequences and she gets to dictate terms and the conditions of their relationship. No wonder he’s such a passive-aggressive ass everytime we see him as it’s the probably only way he can do anything albeit out of frustration.
  • Strike goes and has dinner with friends. Who are they? We don’t know but apparently it needed to be made clear he wasn’t a loner because ‘eww loners are icky and up to no good’ societal clichés. Disposable characterless friends are better than being alone. Even if they are cardboardcutouts from a stock photograph. (Look at how things ended for one of the characters from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series to get an expansion on the concept). The lawyer friend says she hasn’t met Orlando, Owen’s down’s syndrome suffering daughter, yet.
  • At some point Robin goes to the Quine house to meet Orlando and… well long story short Orlando likes to ‘steal’ things and hide them in her bag. Robin offers an exchange but ultimately steals the contents of the bag. In the bag was Owen’s copy of Bombyx Mori. Robin leaves quickly as she has made Orlando incredibly distressed in a flood of tears. Nothing ever comes of this and in fact in the conclusion Orlando even gives Robin a friendly wave. Because Robin can never do wrong…

Strike finds Robin in the office on a Sunday. He says she doesn’t have to be there but she insists. So she shut her grieving fiancé down when he calls her out on her behaviour and she gets to go play detective too? Protagonist centred morality…

Robin says they should go see the house. Thus they go to snoop around someone’s house. And, lo, did Robin say until Cormoran ‘let us venture forth unto the garden’s of burial’ and lo it was so… for her’s was the way and the just as according to the creator…

They approach a garden gate and Robin asks Strike to give her a leg up. Strike doesn’t make a pun about his leg but instead looks over the garden gate himself by doing a pull up. Hench blud, mah boy is hench yeah? Look at him raising himself up like it ain’t no ting. Well no he huffs and puffs a bit but the TV version is in far better condition than his book counterpart. He sees it’s a cemented over patio so burial would have been impossible. When he drops down, instead of slowly lowing himself, he hurts his stump inevitably. [Also there was a sickening crunch which definitely didn’t sound healthy so… maybe got to the hospital’s A&E while your out and about?] He mutters shit and doubles over in agony. Robin calmly asks ‘are you alright?’ Why yes because that’s what people do when they’re in good health doubling over mutting shit and rubbing parts of their body… But then she tells him to lean on her which after initially refusing he accepts and he apologises about it. Commandery… and by that I mean it plays into Robin’s YOU NEED ME! View that she is more than capable of doing his job for him…

Thus they go to the pub. For the pub’s alcohol shall numb all pains of both the flesh and spirit… plus they’ve nothing better to be doing...

Robin notes it’s Strike’s birthday. For lo Robin is not only perfect in action but also knowledge. She even knows Strike’s passport number. Thus she gives him a gift which consists of a number of Cornish food and drink items. She asks how it is and he replies it tastes of Cornwall. (it’s his hometown or something to that effect so… nostalgia). They discuss the case – again in a public space. Strike keeps talking of the guts, how the police investigators were not brought in on it and that Fancourt writes the sort of stuff suggesting this so they should find him tomorrow. Robin asks if his leg will be fine for that and he says ‘yeah, it’ll be fine’… which she doesn’t believe it seems.

The next day he hobbles into the office using a crutch and Robin offers to tail Farcourt but Strike tells her she hasn’t been trained but she insists she wants to do it. Also she informs him Liz has agreed to talk to him about Fancourt too over lunch ‘which will be okay, you’ll be sitting down’. Yeah go on Robin kick him while he’s down. That’ll motivate him to get you trained!

Then she shows Strike the parody of the ‘Sylvia Plath style suicide’ woman’s novel written by Quine. The woman being Fancourt’s wife. The parody was taped to her grave… with what? Duct tape? Seriously in British weather that thing would have blown half way across town in reality. They think either he’s being taunted or blackmailed. Strike compliments her work. She downplays it regarding how she messed up and he walked right past her. Then Strike says maybe some training will help.

Next think they’re at a swanky penthouse suite, him in classic black shirt and tie while she has a figure hugging black dress on. Daniel Chard invited them Strike tells the doormen… who are stood in the middle of the apartment making you wonder how secure it really is. Robin scoffs ‘plus one, he’s not keen on me is he?’ Well you’re there so… it’s not like he refused your presence…

They go out on the balcony. Strike mocks that ‘nevermind declining booksales everyone I’ve met so far in publishing either has a drink in their hand or arranging to meet for lunch’. Rowling can’t help be salty towards the industry that fed her and put her kids through school apparently. Then Robin quips ‘It’s not a bad life is it?’ so Rowling can have her cake and eat it…

They wander around for a while then Strike lights a cigarette and asks when Matthew is back to which Robin replies he’s back already. Strike gives Robin his coat as it’s cold.

Chard taps a wine glass to call everyone’s attention as he is about to give a speech. Do people still do that? It feels pretentious but it works. He speech is basically ‘publishing has rapidly changed but on things remained true: work with great writers and your readers will come. After 20 years elsewhere Fancourt is returning to this publishing house’. So yes Rowling blowing smoke up her own trumpet there ever so subtly saying ‘I’m one of the greats after one book series and a few spin offs’. Yes you can no doubt quote Baum, C.S. Lewis and other ‘one series’ children’s writers but it still stands they did other stuff too. In Rowling’s case this is it… and it was under a pseudonym until the publishers wanted a boost in sales.

Fancourt thanks them all and that it feels like a homecoming (which if you know the Greek mythos origins of that phrase is actually always a bad thing). He waxes lyrical about writing for Chard then Roper and how they were good days alongside saying how he was an angry young man now he’s an angry old man. Everyone does that ‘middle-class polite’ chortles laugh. Then he finishes saying he looks ‘forward to raging for you’. And they applaud as he leaves. Strike leaves thus leaving an opening for Fancourt to approach Robin… because hey he’s a villain and not a single man of mild success who thinks maybe he can use the boost to his confidence to chat up a woman… nope this is villanous despicable behaviour… He noticed she is taking a while to pick a drink and offers suggestions. Sex on the beach? A long, slow, screw up against the wall? No not really… He says the champagne won’t kill her as he picked it out. She flirtingly smiles and says that’s what she’ll have then and he orders two. Then he asks if she’s read anything good lately in what is, in the context, a very cheesy chat up line. She says Bombyx Mori. He calls it a poison pen letter and asks what she thinks of his depiction. She asks if he has read it but he says people have told him of it. He considered Owen a very minor writer with a very large ego and that their conversation would have pleased him enormously. She asks if she can introduce him to someone and brings him over to Strike. Fancourt immediately addresses him as the one-legged detective… which let’s face it is exactly what people called Strike before these BBC adaptions as it’s his U.S.P. compared to Hercule ‘the moustache’ Poirot, Sherlock ‘you know my name’ Holmes, C. Auguste ‘murder at the Rue Morgue’ Dupin, Robert T. ‘in a wheelchair’ Ironside, Endevour ‘shot of whiskey til I die’ Morse, Theofilides ‘I got a lollipop with your name on it’ Kojak, ‘Frank’ [no official first name]‘ah one more thing’ Columbo , the various Swedish detective of recent, Miss Jane ‘little old nosey women busy body’ Marple, John ‘I’ma LUNDUNAAAA’ Luther, Erast ‘different style every case’ Fandorin and so on.

He tells Strike he’s read about him. Strike wants to talk about Owen Quine’s death. Fancourt compliments him on his choice of bait. They talk of how he was co-owner of the house the corpse was found in. He says he’s not been there in ten years at which point Robin chips in saying he inherited it from a friend who died the same year as his wife. She says she’s sorry for his loss at which he spits he didn’t lose her as he tripped over her corpse in the kitchen. Strike asks if he ever confronted Quine about the parody which he says he didn’t but was certain he wrote it. (Yes because a writing style is like a finger print you couldn’t possibly copy someone’s style could you? Seriously… the logic here even if it’s for egotistical writers is incredibly flawed to the point the resolution wouldn’t hold in court save the culprit began running away like an idiot giving away their guilt). Fancourt changes the subject to Strike being a footnote who pops up whenever the topic of his ex’s marriage comes up in magazines. Strike considers it high praise. Fancourt asks him if he’s attracted to trouble women or they become troubled because of him… but then thinks maybe he should ask Robin instead. Robin says they just work together. GET IT? GET IT? ROWLING WANTS YOU TO WANT THE MAIN DUO TOGETHER! GO WRITE A FANFIC OR DRAW SOME FAN ART! NO IMAGINATION? IT’S OKAY AS YOU CAN JUST DRAW THE ACTORS INSTEAD! Strike wonders why Quine would use Bombyx Mori to deny writing the parody if he did. Fancourt says his wife thought if she married a writer it would change how people saw her but when it failed she tried being a writer herself. He thinks Quine saw himself reflected in her. ‘Most writers are not very imaginative Mr Strike, they end up writing about themselves.’ At this point I laughed for a while thinking of the irony of the line…

He felt Quine was a failed writer struggling to gain some status through writing but was in his shadow. He tells Strike to take care, shakes his hand says ‘respect’ and leaves. Middle aged man talking like he’s from the streets yeah? Strike and Robin look at each other. The patented ‘what a wanker’ look.

The next day the pair are walking down a road to a house with a tree growing up it’s front. A man, the editor Waldegrave, answers the door and shakes their hands as he invites them in, offers them coffee. The whole nine yards. Strike thanks him for seeing them. The man says ‘anything for Owen, ha, bastard’. The guy had been at the party the previous night but disappeared after Fancourt’s speech… well yeah not much point hanging around really. Though part of me thinks Strike probably was too busy staring into the distance in his little ‘BOOM GOTCHA’ trap corner of the penthouse roof area rather than watching where the guy went.

Strike asks what he thinks of Fancourt. ‘Terrific writer, absolute shit of a human being’. He asks if they’ve read Bombyx. Strike confirms they both have though the guy wonders if they know what it’s all about. Robin interjects she didn’t recognise him in it. The guy says he was the cutter because… put your junior detective hats on for this revelation… he was the editor! Quine had used a rumour that Fancourt had fathered his daughter as part of the storyline of the cutter in Bombyx.

Strike says it must have hurt to which the editor replies ‘if you want life long camaraderie join the army; if you want peers to glory in your failure, work with novelists. No loyalty. Of course it hurt me.’ At which point he decides to have a drink as he’s got little to be sober for this afternoon and invites them to join him. Strike accepts a perolo and Robin wonders why. ‘It’ll help him feel we are on his side… and I like perolo’ he mutters to her metres away from the editor. People in the Strike universe are deaf to any noise more than three metres away from then it seems. Chatting of Liz the editor says even on a good day she can be an utter bitch and toasts to new-found cadre. After this he recounts some interesting information.

Liz made a pass at Andrew Fancourt after Ellie, the oven wife, died and Andrew saw it as a badge of honour that he couldn’t get it up for her. He mutters ‘prick’ under his breath and Strike admits he hadn’t been told that story by her. He continues that injured pride is exactly why she went with Quine over Andrew. Strike asks if Fancourt had a motive to kill Quine. The editor cites the claim in Bomyx that Fancourt wrote the parody of his wife’s work himself thus leading to her death. Strike asks if it could be true. The editor wonders as he’s very good at writing it. ‘It’s the kind of viciousness from somewhere even if it’s disguised. A writer can give himself away like that. In variably puts himself in the text more than he knows.’ Strike remarks Chard had a theory about that in regards of Bombyx. The editor confides that Chard didn’t like what Quine said about him. Strike says Chard though the manuscript could have had more than one contributor. The editor finds that an interesting thought and gives Strike a draft of the novel. He says there are many parts which feel like classic Quine with shock horror stuff but there are other parts where… DUN DUN DURR is some use of semicolons which in 20 years the editor never saw him use them once. WELL THAT’S CONCRETE EVIDENCE! (Oh, wait… no it is apprently. Really? Yes…). In the Bombyx manuscript there are several. ‘That is not something a writer embraces late in his career’. Strike thanks him assuring him he’s been very helpful. Robin sits with her mouth open aghast like a blow up doll. That was a weird moment… also it implies she hasn’t a clue as to how it proves the manuscript wasn’t Quine’s effort alone. Good detective skills…

Thus Strike announces he is off to Fulham.

But it’s time for the ‘detective explains their deduction’ scene at the denouement. Strike is in his office’s reception moving a chair to the desk to sit by Robin. Many pieces don’t fit together but this might be the thing that explains it.

  • Silkworms are boiled but in Bombyx it’s cut open. The book features the hero burned by a liquid and the murder site had acid. Katherine kent was expecting a very different book.
  • Waldergrave (aka the editor) and Chard detected foreign influence in the text (RUSSIAN HACKERS!) thus Strike deduces they repeatedly hear the same thing: Something is not quite right with Bombyx Mori.

THEY NEED A LITERARY ANALYST… wherever you go to hire one of those on the fly to compare the writing styles. Robin says she’ll get on that like it’s nothing.

  • The only person they know who spoke to Quine about the book was Liz so Strike is going to go to lunch with her again. ‘Needs must’… which I’m sure is a ‘you fat bastard’ type joke in the book no doubt as he is said to be so unfit but in the TV adaption they’ve only got Tom Burke who, at worst, you would say has a rounded face…

Next thing Strike is at the window reading a sliver of paper noting it has no baroque archetypes before he and Robin dramatically walk out the office into reception. It’s quite silly when you notice the Dutch angle and rising musical chord used as if something incredibly dramatic is about to occur only for it to be the literary analyst. Young and handsome of course as we can’t have any normal people on-screen unless they’re baddies or figures of ridicule. He congratulates them on getting it and Robin says Oxford often ask for it as it has Fancourt’s earliest published story in it. Long story short favouring certain irregular punctuation and such marks out who wrote it due to Quine never using the Oxford comma. Strike asks if it’s proof?

One word: No…

But it does suggest whoever wrote the parody piece also wrote Bombyx Mori. Which… let’s be honest is exactly where the pair were before hiring this expert. Though he does add it probably was the same person who wrote the short story as well.

Strike remarks it’s a sophisticated revenge ‘the story of your grudge in the form of a secret parody of Quine himself’. Robin adds that it leaves all the people around Quine hating him. But Strike feels it’s too complicated. Well they’re all conceited and ‘better than thou’ faux intellectuals so it probably isn’t to be honest. I mean… Finnegan’s Wake if nothing else proves how conceited writer’s can be about their genius and how easily people go along with it…

Strike makes a call to his detective buddy asking he trust him he needs to get a search warrant.

Strike and Robin walk down a road dramatically. She asks if he’s sure about this and he says absolutely. At the private dining club Robin comments it’s like a Bobyx reunion. The music is tense so you know this will be the ‘ah, it was old groundskeeper Willy all along… I would have got away with it if it wasn’t for you meddling kids’ scene.

Strike asks Chard and Fancourt if they have a moment to discuss something concerning Bombyx Mori. The three men head away from the table. Strike tells Fancourt he read the parody of his wife’s novel. He notes how spiteful it was. At this moment Liz begins to wander over. Strike says both Bombyx and the parody were written by the same person BUT Owen Quine was not the author. DUN DUN DURR (for those who didn’t figure it out much earlier when we had only been hit over the head 3 times instead of 12 with that possibility). Liz excuses herself saying she couldn’t help herself when hearing the name of that ‘wretched book’ raised and not ‘apologise’ to them both. Strike says good evening to her. Quine had written ‘a’ Bombyx Mori and intended to publish it but not ‘the’ version everyone else had read. The original ‘buries a few old sparring partners’ but his anecdote about Mr Fancourt’s limp dick isn’t in the original text they were given.

But then who would have known of it? Was it the editor or….

Everyone turns silently to Liz… who immediately tries to do a runner because that’s what everyone stupidly does when found out in these things so there’s a bit of action and tension to end on an adrenaline high.

Strike can’t chase her due to his leg so he calls to Robin. Liz smashes a vase into Robin’s face like this is an action movie but she continues to give chase a second after Strike checks on her. Outside Liz does a spot on impression of the T-1000 from Terminator 2 as she runs down the road. She nearly gets knocked over as she crosses the street. Apparently for a heavy smoker in her late 50s or so Liz is easily out running healthy, keen exerciser, Robin easily. Let’s say it’s because Robin has heels on otherwise it feels a little ridiculous…

Strike slowly follows and Robin tackles Liz to the ground but not without a tussle and some cat fighting. At this exact moment the police sirens wail and they arrive to take Liz away. Because they can’t announce their arrival until someone else has pinned the culprit down. Have to consider those health and safety and the possibilities of insurance payouts…

The next day and life moves on at the office. Strike calls Robin into his office. He says it might be good news so she should call them a cab… why he doesn’t just do it himself after finishing the call he’s on I don’t know but she has to earn her pay somehow.

Then outside in the sunlight the camera pans and we see Mrs Quine released from prison who trundles up to them like a child gleeful at seeing them… for you see the working class are not like Robin and Strike They are a lower order of intelligence equitable to a grapefruit and thus are like primary school children even after long having children and such. It is for the higher order to have dominion over these Luddites and ensure they are put to good use. That’s the tone of the Leonora character and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that in the book she actually is developmentally challenged considering how she is depicted here…

Liz is in prison on suicide watch. Strike tells Leonora they found the real copy of the book in her house. Chard wants to read it with a view to publishing it and ‘it might even sell a few copies’ he adds. Robin gives him a look and he mouths ‘what?’ as he doesn’t realise how rude it sounded. Ho. ho, ho silly emotionally dense man – don’t you know it’s a woman’s world…

Leonora runs up the steps and joyously reunites with her Down’s Syndrome daughter. A carer… social worker… old woman who is never introduced… looks on happily. The daughter, Orlando, waves at Robin (as if she’s forgotten how she was tricked into giving away her treasure from her bag, and all ends happily. Strike and Robin get back in the black cab and next thing they’re discussing the detective just being glad the right person got locked up. Here we are told they checked Liz’s freezer and that she had been feeding Quine’s guts to her dog… hence all it’s digestion and defecation issues it had. DID YOU GET THE CLUE OR THINK ANIMAL SUFFERING WASN’T A MASSIVE GLOWING RED NEON SIGN OF EVIL? Robin remarks it’s disgusting. Not hoping the dog is okay or if it’s alive but just ‘disgusting’. Strike asks about Matthew and she scoffs about seeing him worse after a rugby match and says she is going to get the tube. She remembers to mention his ex sent in some photos and he laughs she isn’t his problem anymore. He tells Robin he has something for her and pulls and envelope out of his coat. He is paying for her to go on a surveillance training course. Or more exactly ‘you find it, I’ll pay for it’… which on the grand scheme of gift giving is a bit crap. She might find the most expensive course going. ‘So partners yeah?’ he smiles. She shakes his hand and he kisses it. I half expected a ‘M’lady’ and a fedora to fall out his pocket… and he goes upstairs while she walks smiling down the road. Again Robin gets everything she wants.

The End.

Review:

So this time around it’s the second person Strike meets regarding the case that turns out to be the killer. Taking Cuckoo into account that leads me to deduce that in the third case it will be the third person Strike meets who will be the killer in that story.

This book, in a meta-narrative sense, will no doubt be revealed one say as Rowling’s thinly veiled attack on people she doesn’t like in her own literary career and feels are leaching off her. Whether done knowingly or unconsciously will have to be seen.

Robin again is a thoroughly unlikable individual. It’s one thing to bluntly tell your boss you expected to ‘climb the ladder’ though being an administrative assistant and being an investigator are incredibly different skill sets even if you seem to think being an Oxford psychology degree drop out somehow qualifies you by default. Yet throughout the story she keeps on trying to persuade Strike to allow it.

Then she repeatedly leaves her grieving fiancé to go off on what comes across like adventure to her and not work. He might be an arse but that’s vile behaviour.

Hires a car and goes off-road with it. Not to mention she just so happened to take an advanced driving course as if that’s just something you do off the cuff.

The ‘ha ha I’ve got what I want’ trade with Orlando seems… cruel isn’t even the word. Did she take the necklace back as well?

There is just nothing redeeming about her as a character so far in these stories. What challenges does she actually face during these events? That Strike won’t make her a detective when she isn’t qualified? That her fiancé, who admittedly is unremittedly unpleasant to the point not once have we seen why she likes him save it was convenient, is going through the natural process of grieving and needs her to be there for him like… oh you know… a life partner he’s going to marry?! But she wants to go play detective. That a person with severe learning difficulties has incriminating evidence that can solve the case? No matter what scenario she is in she is in control and it’s incredibly difficult to identify with her. Yes I know that it’s eventually revealed she was the victim of rape so her need to be ‘always prepared’ so she never feels vulnerable again could be justified but not to this extent. It’s gone past self empowerment and falling into the abyss of Mary Sue. She has no flaws and thus suffers the Superman syndrome where there is nothing for her to overcome with any difficulty. Solving the problems in this case is as difficult as… well as you reading this right now.

As an example of how her character’s development so far in the series has come across: You needed to learn to read English but once that hurdle has been crossed here you are relaxing reading this like it’s nothing. Meanwhile there’s someone who can’t read English but can translate it and get the gist to find out what is being said and then there are people with dyslexia. This is how I feel any challenges are represented in the Strike novel series. Robin does things like it’s nothing, Strike has to interpret the clues he finds to work things out and the rest of the characters seem to be completely incapable of even comprehending the events of the murder (which is more an issue with the negative portrayal of the police, who’ve blamed the wrong person in both cases so far based on little to no conclusive evidence, than other figures in the story).

So let’s look at another aspect. Robin manipulates a mentally disabled young woman intentionally causing her distress. It’s hard not to read into that since Robin seems like such a glorified self insert. Does Rowling have issues with disabled or ‘deviating from the norm’ people? I mean let’s look at the end of harry potter.

  • Peter Pettigrew – (hand missing) – dead
  • Lupin – (werewolf i.e. infectious disease) – dead
  • Mad Eye Moody – (missing an eye and limbs) – dead
  • Voldermort – (orphan of a broken home and mental illness re: psychopath/sociopath) – dead
  • Severus Snape – ( bad upbringing and a Mudblood i.e. mixed race) – dead
  • Dumbledore – (undisclosed at the time homosexual) – dead

You could extend it to a number of the dead characters really…

Okay the last few are not disabilities but those communities do face persecution to varying degrees even nowadays. ‘Oh but lot’s of people are dead by the end’ you cry… yes but a few of these are ‘list of the dead’ deaths and not given details or any dignity considering how invested people became with the characters over the course of the series while the ‘villainous’ ones above are made to suffer for the most part or a great amount of time is spent noting how deviant they are compared to the social norm. Rowling has an issue with working class people and generally anyone who doesn’t agree with her sensibilities it seems and thus they get reduced to caricatures who are somewhat lesser than the figures she wants you to identify with.

It was an amusing case but the whole ‘you could never replicate another person’s writing style’ seemed a weak keystone piece of evidence to hinge the case on. It suggests the culprit was negligent and that’s disappointing. Most of all it’s hard to ignore the sense that this is Rowling’s own ‘Bombyx Mori’ criticising people she knows in the industry.


Please give Katerina Varela’s YouTube channel a look as it is thanks to her the videos of all the key scenes of the case are all here for your viewing pleasure.

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Leisure by William Henry Davies

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

 

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

 

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

 

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

 

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

 

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

 

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

 

by William Henry Davies (1871 – 1940)


William Henry Davies or W. H. Davies (3 July 1871 – 26 September 1940) was a Welsh poet and writer. Davies spent a significant part of his life as a tramp or hobo, in the United Kingdom and United States, but became one of the most popular poets of his time. The principal themes in his work are observations about life’s hardships, the ways in which the human condition is reflected in nature, his own tramping adventures and the various characters he met. Davies is usually considered one of the Georgian Poets, although much of his work is not typical of the group, in either style or theme.

Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard: Adapted by Gary Owen

Pembrokeshire, 1982. Things are going to change.

Written shortly before the Russian Revolution, The Cherry Orchard is one of the greatest of all plays. Chekhov’s comedy captures a world on the brink of social upheaval. It is a witty, compassionate study of humanity’s flaws and our refusal to face what is right in front of us. Experience this masterpiece radically reimagined by one of the most powerful partnerships working in theatre today – Gary Owen and Rachel O’Riordan. This new version places the action in another time on the cusp of huge social change – early 80s Britain at the outset of Margaret Thatcher’s regime.

‘Chekhov is one of the great playwrights. His ability to articulate human interaction, with all its flaws and misunderstandings, makes him a natural writer for Gary Owen to adapt.’ Rachel O’Riordan

 

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I saw a performance of this adaption, at Sherman Theatre in Cardiff, on 25 November 2017 and will discuss a number of the changes made from the original and my rough analysis of how these changes affect the narrative.

Staging:

There is a white floor, a floral patterned sofa at the front, to the right a short ornate bookcase, to the rear a Welsh dresser, a pine table and chairs in the centre and to the left a doormat indicating the entrance to the house. There is also a rear exit which due to the otherwise minimalist staging is a ceiling high white catwalk like exit with the background otherwise being black so you focus on the staged events.

the cherry orchard stage layout.png

 

Here is a basic idea of the staging:

Grey: Outside parts of the stage

Brown: Welsh Dresser, bookcase, pine table and chairs.

Sofa and the toy train which hides under it

Access to the stage off stage left and to the rear.

Staff:

By Anton Chekhov

A re-imagining by Gary Owen

Director: Rachel O’Riordan

Designer: Kenny Miller

Lighting Designer: Kevin Treacy

Composer and Sound Designer: Simon Slater

Assistant Director: Paul Jenkins (a JMK Trust position supported by The Carne Trust)

Casting Director: Kay Magson CDG

DSC_0258 leaflet clockwise rainey, anya, ceri, dottie, lewis, valerie and george aaaa
Clockwise: Rainey, Anya, Ceri, Dottie, Lewis, Valerie and George

Cast:

George: Simon Armstrong

Rainey: Denise Black

Lewis: Matthew Bulgo

Anya: Morfydd Clark

Valerie: Hedydd Dylan

Ceri: Richard Mylan

Dottie: Alexandria Riley

The following breakdown of events and character might be a little rough but hopefully makes sense as otherwise I would have to write an essay on it all. The adaption combines certain characters to reduce the number of characters involved in proceedings and makes sense when you consider this is a family which has lost a lot of money and likely would have let most if not all essential staff go except Dottie who has grown up with them and therefore is somewhat like family in a sense.

Dramatis Personae:

Rainey: Matriarch of the family. She has been living in London until her return at the start of the play. Has a husband who died in a car crash due to being drunk and a dead son who she didn’t save as she fell asleep drunk on the beach.

[In the original: Madame Lyubov Andreievna Ranevskaya]

Gabriel: Brother to Rainey, uncle to Valerie and Anya. A well off ‘gentleman of leisure’ who seems to just exist on the estate doing nothing much with his time.

[In the original: Leonid Andreieveitch Gayev]

Lewis: Former worker from a line of family who’ve served Rainey’s family on the farm for generations but is now a man of means in a financially better position than them.

[In the original: He is an amalgamation of characters. Yermolai Alexeievitch Lopakhin primarily but he also incorporates the business venture ideas of Boris Borisovich Simeonov-Pishchik in a more proactive manner. He is the one with money and offering business suggestions regarding the property and in the end buys it to make the land into a hotel resort. Rainey believes he is doing all this as vengeance for when they knocked down his grandfather’s cottage to plant the orchard but he denies it when confronted.]

Valerie: Elder (adopted) daughter of Rainey, running the farm and engaged to Lewis.

[In the original: Varya]

Anya: Young student and the younger daughter of Rainey who has just returned to the estate.

[In the original: Anya unsurprisingly. She implies that while at university she has had a female lover, to Ceri’s surprise and views him only as a summer fling at the end of the play though they go off together so it could be implied either she is being bluntly honest or that she is yet again teasing him though it leans more to the former. Ceri was her tutor not the dead son’s.]

Dottie: Housekeeper and maid. Her mother worked for the family before her and died of cancer.

[In the original: Dunyasha but no doubt with lines from the other servants included to the point it needs to be lampshaded she speaks with an inappropriate familiarity which in the original the older servants and their positions in the household might have allowed them. Lewis and Ceri mention she makes more than good money at the estate and faults it on nights out so that aspect of Dunyasha is retained but never shown on stage.]

Ceri: A politically minded, punk music loving, local 30 something who is a former tutor to Anya. His left-wing views are presented as empty counter-culture gesturing when challenged by Anya [in the original: Peter Trofimov with elements of Yasha.]

Rainey’s deceased son: He is spoken about at certain points in the play but only represented by a small wooden train moving unaided from beneath the sofa. He does appear on stage at the very end calling out ‘mummy’ a few times and it seemed pointless to be honest. He drowned when Rainey fell asleep drunk at the beach one day years ago and she often recalls how he was ‘drowning not waving’. In the original he is Grisha.

Charlotta Ivanovna, Yepikhodov, Firs, ‘A Stranger/Vagrant’, The Stationmaster, The Postmaster along with any other servants, guests and such are all absent or their lines integrated into the dialogue of the surviving reduced cast of characters.

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Differences I recall off the top of my head ( I studied the original years ago so might have a few inaccuracies when comparing them):

  • All acts and scenes take place inside the livingroom/dining area barring events at the doorway and when Ceri and Anya dance to some music sat in the orchard which Rainey interrupts drunkenly later on.

  • Instead of a cherry orchard it’s an apple orchard.

  • It is set in Pembrokeshire, South Wales beginning in later March 1982, as the 1st of April (All Fool’s Day) is mentioned in one of the later acts leading everyone to believe George is joking about getting a job though he’s always been ‘a gentleman of leisure’.

  • The play opens on Lewis lying asleep across the sofa with his muddy boots dirtying the floor, Dottie as a joke puts lipstick on his lips and part of the opening, after Valerie helps him take his boots off, is spent with people commenting on it as he worries Dottie kissed him and secretly has affection towards him.

  • Dottie seems far more cynical and bitter than the servants of the original. ‘Welsh humour’ they’ll claim but I could see another production using this script making her far less likeable as it’s such a fine line to tread.

  • Rainey doesn’t have a young lover but has remained living in a hotel in London since her son’s drowning (though I don’t think it’s stated explicitly).

  • Valerie is still adopted and in this version it is never really discussed fully save that Valerie was happy with the family she had been initially put with and resented being taken away by Rainey initially.

  • Rainey and Anya, who has been studying in London, return at the same time independent of each other.

  • Valerie and Lewis are engaged to be married and worry about telling Rainey about it (thus the assumptions of the original are made explicit). Therefore at no point does she say that if she had money she would move as far away from him as possible in the original as far as I recall but it’s said here for drama.

  • Instead of holiday cottages it is their household which will become a hotel with Valerie as the hotel manager, Lewis the owner and Dottie retained (though she refuses as she wants to do something else with her life).

  • Ceri was Anya’s tutor not the unnamed (Grisha) son’s tutor. He doesn’t insist on seeing Rainey and in fact it’s by coincidence of timing they meet when he was visiting. In fact their reunion is a someone pleasant one with her flirting with him and no mention of her son’s death.

  • Anya and Valerie don’t have a conversation about their mother’s debts as it is already apparent even before her arrival. What does perhaps change is Rainey says she had money but only realised after staying in a hotel how much the cost was over time.

  • Much of Act II’s beginning is excised as the servant character’s have been reduced to Dottie who seems quite satisfied with her working class manner.

  • Ceri’s decloration of his political beliefs is usually only to Anya and even then trivialized by her.

  • At no point does George allude to billiards.

  • There is no passing vagrant for Rainey to give all her money to so Valerie’s frustrations are regarding her excessive drinking and the bills she ran up in London with no concept of how hard it has been to keep the estate running in her absence. Rainey giving Dottie her wedding ring may replace this but is placed far later in the play.

  • Generally Lewis, though initially a figure of mockery, is presented as the only antagonistic figure in the play as he combines the aspects of contrasting characters.

  • Anya doesn’t vow to leave her old life behind and in fact seems determined to retain it. But she does inform Ceri she had a girlfriend at university and it’s left vague if they remain a couple at the end.

  • The most distinct difference is there is no party but rather Rainey getting more and more drunk before the contract signing deadline prior to the auction instead. Everyone takes this as her either having her fun while she still can torment them or that she is doing it so, should she sign, it won’t be legally binding.

  • As Rainey has no lover in Paris/London that aspect never comes up so she has no need to leave though she wishes to as there is nothing left for her here. Instead she tells of how her husband died in a car crash while drunk and she was drunk on the beach and didn’t save her son who drowned.

  • Ceri doesn’t fall down any stairs but he does discuss music with Anya as they dance around a record player outside in the orchard and she informs him she isn’t in love with him and what they have at the moment is just a summer fling which hurts him before she puts on a song to mock his feelings and try to break him out of his sorrow from being rejected.

  • Lewis and Valerie (or is it Ceri and Anya?) go out to chop down a tree.

  • Most of the second part involves trying to get Rainey (barefoot, scantily clad in a silk nighty and robe usually carrying a wine glass looking to replenish it, to sign the contract before, in frustration Lewis rips it up as it’s worthless if she is drunk and able to deny responsibility. However a second copy is acquired and she signs it so the auction occurs and Lewis comes and lauds it over everyone declaring his intentions to make the estate a hotel and everyone work there if they wish to with Valerie as the hotel manager. She doesn’t like the idea and instead intends to set up a flavoured yoghurt company for herself which surprises him.

  • Apart from George who had already declared happily he had got himself a job in stocks trading thus isn’t reticent like Gayev in the original. Everyone thought it was an April Fool’s joke but in fact he was telling the truth. He offers Dottie a job as his housekeeper it seems but in fact it’s more. He wants her to be his lover but she is repulsed and refuses having decided to do something other than housework.

  • Rainey, sad that Dottie is like a daughter to her having been with the family so long, gives her the wedding ring she had worn on a chain around her neck since her husband’s death. Dottie recounts how her mother, dying of cancer, went to work and took her along hence how Dottie began working for the family herself. Dottie refuses the ring but Rainey insists. Later George returns it to Rainey having been given it by Dottie who has now left the family’s service.

  • Thus Rainey and Anya are returning to London. Ceri is back where he was. Lewis has a hotel to build while his future wife, Valerie, establishes a yoghurt company. Dottie has gone off to another job. George is now on a stocks trader. Ceri… presumably is exactly where he was to begin with as his political views mean nothing and Anya considered him no more than a play thing.

  • In the adaption the play ends with the ghost of Rainey’s son [Grisha] having been left behind with the end of the family home to enter the consumerist lifestyles of the 1980s. This occurs instead of the old servant Firs being left behind and apparently dying on stage as a symbol of the end of the Imperial age.

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Analysis/Review:

The changes can at times seem subtle and appropriate updates but some seem needless. ‘Oh Anya had a lesbian relationship – how thoroughly modern!’ In fact that is the most notable one, in terms of its intrinsic message, really and seems a subtle dig at the perception of Russia’s official view of teaching homosexuality to children which ha been blown out of proportion. We actually had a similar law in the 80s so her relationship at that time would have been highly controversial (but not illegal as it was in preceding decades) especially due to the Aids epidemic at the time which makes her mention of it so casually highly unrealistic for the setting even for a libertine. Aids was called ‘the gay plague’ and homosexuality really was demonised in the conservative media at the time so the scriptwriter’s inclusion of it is either in order to be politically correct for a modern audience’s sensibilities or he has somehow forgotten that era of history he himself lived through here.

There are 1980s songs played at the end of scenes and when they cut in it’s incredibly loud! Imagine if a speaker is suddenly switched on right next to your head half way into a chorus. It was hard for anyone to not suddenly jump each time.

The costumes are of course variants of the 1980s style but have allusions to period collars or patterns people would associate with the Russia of Chekov’s era. It’s most obvious towards the end of the play when the floral embroidered patterns appear prominently on people’s clothing but felt a nice inclusion in order to distance the production yet still pay it’s dues to the original’s setting.

They changed the ending so instead of the old servant Firs lying down lamenting everyone has left him behind we get the ghost of Rainey’s dead son running on stage calling out to her at the end. The presence of everyone’s memory of him in the household is alluded to by a toy train rolling out from beneath the sofa and so they might as well have repeated that image rather than have a boy, unseen and unheard throughout the rest of the play, run out on stage. It seemed arbitrary and no doubt cost the production unnecessarily. If this production was revised I think the toy train moving again is more than enough. Who was the boy actor? He is mentioned nowhere and almost feels like a little cameo for someone to cast their own child in a nepotistic move. Then again you have that tradition of not naming the actors of ghost characters in other productions like The Lady In Black so it’s not a massive issue really but just feels extraneous.

Lewis and Valerie are explicitly connected almost immediately from the start rather than, in the original Chekov play, everyone assuming they will get together but it’s never confirmed. If they’re not then it may suggest that they too have moved on from each other into a new future as everyone else has. The adaption subverts Chekov’s version in that sense as their equivalent in the original were perhaps the most representative of the new age so now instead they’re the most traditional figures in the play. Albeit with Valerie’s desire to start her own business aside from the hotel it’s not a happy union even before their marriage. Intentional or not that seems the case as everyone else, barring maybe Ceri, subverts the traditional expectations or even those of people familiar with the original where Anya and Trofimov are still in a relationship by the end (if I recall correctly).

Instead of a cherry orchard it’s an apple orchard. Cherry trees are often seen as symbols of sadness or regret at the passing away of a certain situation or of the times in general especially in Japan where they’re often associated with the passing from youth to a more mature world or the loss of innocence. In a general sense you could say the apple carries the same imagery as it’s often depicted as the fruit of wisdom in the garden of Eden which Eve ate thus leading to a loss of innocence and fall from grace. However apples throughout Welsh mythology carry a different association. For example ‘the isle of apples’ better known as Avalon where King Arthur slumbers until Britain needs him again in its darkest hour. Therefore suddenly it’s not a loss but an anticipation for a return that is implied by the setting – except it is the end of an era so taking that symbolism it’s an extra layer of bitterness added on top of all the other alterations already made to create darker tones within the play.

Arguably the retention of the original title and yet change of the orchard’s produce makes no difference symbolically, if you somehow accept it’s set in Wales but ignore Welsh symbolism, but it is something that can be seen under analysis which adds to the further ‘grim dark’ alterations already made. Thus a predominantly comedic play turns into a more austere drama with moments of levity provided by dry humourous comments. The play comes across more emotionally detached than the original despite it being a modernised adaption.

It’s not the first adaption of a Chekov play to relocate events to Wales. Anthony Hopkins adapted ‘Autumn’ from ‘Uncle Vanya’. I did see Hopkins’ adaption at the New Theatre when it was performed but of course that was decades ago so and I don’t remember the film adaption that was also made. The Cherry Orchard I feel takes more risks with the themes but I can’t say it does much positive with them. For example with the exchange regarding Thatcher Ceri has far fewer lines than Lewis who seems to spend at least two acts recounting how his views are the correct perception with little challenge. The worst challenge he receives is Valerie wanting to establish her yoghurt company instead of working in the hotel and that only further drives the ‘capitalism is great’ narrative.

If anything Ceri’s challenges are portrayed as nonsense though of course in the original they were eventually deemed as a forerunner to Bolshevik/revolutionary views and censored during the later Tsarist years. Now in this version it’s almost as if the playwright is confirming the bias of the middle class, well off, student audience who have drifted towards conservative views in recent years while the left-wing is made more and more a caricature of screeching reactionaries in the mass media as often typified as SJWs or latterday Communists waving the communist flags without understanding real world poticial history associated with it. Of course that isn’t portrayed in the play. Instead we get Anya toying with his affections, him being the butt of many jokes as he follows her like a love sick puppy out of scenes and spouting off political rhetoric of little substance beyond his surface level, leather jacket wearing, aesthetic.

The play endorses the 1980s perception of the film Wall Street’s ‘greed is good’ mantra espoused by its villain protagonist Gordon Gecko, which people misinterpreted as a literal validation of capitalism and not a satirical condemnation of such views. Everyone wants something. Objects are the focus of many scenes, especially the ornate bookcase made by a craftsman and the lament it’s going to be replaced by flat pack furniture from now on, on top of conversations about finances and societal positions but where the working class characters seem far more cruel and judgemental than the elites. It almost makes them the victims if not for how things seem to turn out by the end.

The play is more concerned with aesthetics than earnest beliefs. The facade of love, the facade of respectability, the facade of intelligence and integrity. No one in this adaptation truly believes in anything which seems a warped interpretation of the original’s message swapping accepting societal change in the original for the adaption’s ineffectual use of facades where things have appeared to change but they don’t really. The character’s circumstances have changed but they themselves are still the same as they were at the start of the play.

If this was made in the 1980s that would be fine as that was the mass consumerist mindset of the era but having been made now, over quarter of a century later, we see no real reflection on the era and how it has now lead to any number of social issues as a result of what happened then. Anya’s flippant joking of her sexuality certainly would have been a much more serious matter at the time and not something you could just express in a passing line of dialogue to portray her as a free spirit. However it could also serve to show how disconnected from the reality of the rest of society that she treats the matter so lightly when it was a source of much social debate at the time in the media.

Where in the original it was a comedy with dramatic elements about societal change this production in the end is more a screed to how little things change. The well off, like George, will remain well off even if they don’t get everything they want, while those who are servants will always remain so. Lewis may be a hotel owner in future but he will still be serving the guests of the hotel and never truly a master in his own right as even Valerie will be doing her own thing starting a business of her own which will no doubt lead her to spend little time with him. The family home is gone but the family no longer exists anyway and everyone is better off going their own way. If that is the intended message it’s an incredibly cruel and bitter one…

No matter how much money and status Lewis had he will always be socially lower tier than the now poorer, yet still of the socially elite, family. Even if they don’t have the estate they still have their class which will ensure doors are open to them and hypergamy is always an option.

There are various modernisations but the core narrative and themes lose nothing in the translation at a surface level but it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. I can see purists and those who reflect on the adaption taking issue though it’s an adaption experimenting with the original and is not just in name only thankfully.

If I’m honest the ‘better spoken’ members of the cast, especially Anya, sounded like they had stepped off the set of the first three Harry Potter films as the received pronunciation English used was so sharp and therefore artificial sounding. To me that exact accent is as profoundly unrealistic as the artificially acquired trans/mid-Atlantic accent American actors had in 1930-50s Hollywood films. Meanwhile of course the Welsh accents too are played up leaving only Rainey and George sounding natural. I don’t know if that was intentional or not really. Of course as a comedy, or more so drama due to the alterations here, the caricaturisation is somewhat embellished anyway.

The sudden turns to drama, usually revolving around Rainey’s recalling the deaths of her husband and son but also Valerie’s resentment at being torn from an adopted family she loved to be Rainey’s daughter and Dottie talking about how she hates being in service and being introduced to it when her mother was dying as if being trained as her replacement all feel a little too forced if melodramatically dissonant. In a play that seems so focused on themes of societal change, moving on and accepting this adaption dwells on past suffering to a maudlin extent.

As it’s set in 1980s Wales of course Margaret Thatcher is mentioned. For Ceri she is an evil figure but for Lewis she is a saint as he repeatedly mentions the ‘Right to Buy’ law she passed allowing people to buy their council house homes at a discount of its actual value. Right to Buy is coming to an end as it’s led to people doing exactly what Lewis suggested by buying house after house and letting them out for insane profit.

He is challenged on this and how it will tarnish the family estate’s reputation though he tells them it won’t be their’s anymore. They compare it to making it like a council estate which of course Dottie takes an exception to suggesting she, from a council estate herself, is lesser than them though they’re the ones in debt selling their land off.

So our perspective as an audience is at once challenged without there being a clear right and wrong. It will return the orchard land to residential property land as it was in the time of Lewis’ grandfather but it is the end of an era and lifestyle for Rainey’s family. To Rainey it’s the loss of her father’s work to establish the orchard. To Anya the orchard, for her lifetime at least, has always been an orchard. For Valerie it’s the end of the estate she kept running and will ultimately give up on once Lewis turns it into a hotel.

Therefore the themes of change seem to be changed in fact to one of loss only the more reinforced by our final moments with it being the dead son’s return to try to find a mother who has left him behind. The tone therefore is in fact far darker ultimately than the original play. That shouldn’t come as a surprise as it’s a re-imagining by Gary Owen and anyone familiar with his previous work will be aware of his previous works’ tones.

I liked it when I saw it and it was an excellent production. However the script does seem needlessly dour the more you reflect on the changes. I know initially Chekov apparently wanted to write serious plays but people were finding humour in them and then sometimes people would view comedies as tragedies or vice versa… I think this adaption definitely wants to be on the more dark side of things but the natural humour of the original still found a way to seep into it. It’s good. I would see it again. I just find the scriptwriter Gary Owen tries a bit too hard at times to discuss the darker side of humanity in his works to the point it could easily become a farce in some people’s hands.

Should Gary Owen’s adaption of the play ever get another run in future it is essential viewing for both those familiar and unfamiliar with the original. Highly recommended!

BBC Adaption Review – Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling

Overall the tone is awkward. It’s not dark enough to take seriously and so you start seeing all the narrative conveniences. The original book was apparently filled with dark humour and swearing but it seems both have been toned down for a general audience for fear children might see this due to Harry Potter. People, as a contrivance to push the narrative forward with little challenge, just seem to give Strike information with little if any justification – many breaching the confidentiality of information act time and time again. The characters in this challenge of deductive reasoning be they red herrings, antagonistic persons or actual criminals are all but given pantomime level depictions in terms of their overt antagonism.

Our leading man is an Oxford drop out ex-military police investigation branch member which is as Marty Stu a characterisation as you can do short of saying he’s a blood relative of Sherlock Holmes for a detective story. But he has a prosthesis. That’s his one permanent flaw. Everything else can be changed. He is the wish fulfilment figure for women who wish to ‘fix’ the men they’re involved with. Robin finds him down and out but through her presence he gradually becomes a better man if not detective.

Robin is… bland? I want to say bland but it’s more true to say she is a character who has no real issues (although I know how her major traumatic ‘character development’ revealled later in the series which… suffice to say it was hinted at but it’s still the most blatant ‘if you don’t sympathise with this character and fogive all her sins instantly after knowing this you’re a monster’ tactic possible). She is there as an audience surrogate but doesn’t seem to have much development beyond some quite generic ‘recognises the value in this gruff but talented man’ aspects and an innate ability to gossip and lie using a bad Liverpool accents on the phone. Her fiancé is portrayed as a bit of an arse in order to make Strike seem better by comparison and attept to force us to sympathise with her if nothing else. She has a job offered by Strike yet applies for another job and is offered it (arguably Strike’s job was temporary and she needed something more secure but the series never gives this point it’s due), gets given a dressas a ‘bonus’ for her help (which is a bit sexist ironically considering how far Rowling goes out of her way to declare herself a feminist) but overall she just seems to be another narrative device with little charm.

Their names are a little on the nose too.

Comoran, while being the name of an Irish folklore giant, is also one letter off cormorant (hilariously closely connected to a bird known as a shag in what has to be some of the most juvenile ‘pretending to be mature’ naming possible by an author I’ve ever seen) are described by the RSPB as

“A large and conspicuous waterbird, the cormorant has an almost primitive appearance with its long neck making it appear almost reptilian. It is often seen standing with its wings held out to dry. Regarded by some as black, sinister and greedy, cormorants are supreme fishers which can bring them into conflict with anglers and they have been persecuted in the past.”

… so basically the film noir detective of the bird world.

While cute little robins are described as:

“sing[ing] nearly all year round and despite their cute appearance, they are aggressively territorial and are quick to drive away intruders. They will sing at night next to street lights.

… Robin. Batman. Sidekick. Also small but ready for a fight. Even Rowling had Strike acknowledge it in the book.

So our leading man is old school, a little pompous seeming and previously persecuted (and also he strikes!) while his sidekick is small but pluckyour grizzled male lead and his plucky, red head, young side kick and probable future love interest.

Show Premise

Cormoran Strike, a war veteran turned private detective operating out of a tiny office in London’s Denmark Street, is wounded both physically and psychologically. His unique insight and his background as a Special Investigation Branch Investigator prove crucial in solving three complex cases, which have eluded the police.

… Or, as with a lot of pulp fiction writing, ‘the police solved the case with the evidence at hand BUT THEY WERE WRONG watch as our intrepid, Ayn Randian wet dream of a protagonist,hero through brute force, social connections, illegal methods and sheer ‘right place at the right time’ luck achieves the impossible and reveals the truth! Women want him, men want to be him.

As mentioned everyone seems to have, even if only for a moment before dropping out, attended Oxford or Cambridge. The dual purpose being that Rowling is writing to reflect her audience because, it seems to her, only the most educated people apparently read books (apart from, of course, everyone who bought her books who didn’t attend one or the other of those institutions thus making her a worldwide best selling author rather than a literary curio) or these sort of things only occur to ‘the beautiful people’ and social elite whose lives are just so much more interesting than we common folk.

Often you would see that happen with Agatha Christie too but in fairness she was churning so many books out she needed to have as many instantly recognised short hands, e.g. people who go to Oxford or Cambridge are highly intelligent, wordly, knowledgeable and therefore would deduce with some evidence the facts of a crime, as many different locations as possible for variety to appeal (don’t like country estates? How about a village? The seaside? How about aboard moving trains?) and thus it was a bit of a ‘cheat’ since such culturally elite people were financially capable and prone to exotic foreign travel which still wasn’t anywhere near as commonplace as it is nowadays so addeed to the writing’s appeal. It aso reflected the end of the Imperial era’s mindset of venturing into the world and conquering the local troubles – which in this genre’s case is usually a murder or theft. However Rowling is writing that era’s detective story in the modern age and it is an awkward fit resulting in, ironically, a far narrower world in direct contrast to the same figures about a century ago.

In case you’re wondering the second book involves the murder of an author so she fell into that classic ‘write what you know’ author specific trap that early in the series! Stephen King would be proud.

Not one risky step whatsoever is taken in telling the story. If asked ‘please give me the most stereotypical detective story possible’ no longer will we turn to Agatha Christie, who more or less defined the genre single-handedly so originated what others would copy until it became a cliche, but we will turn to Rowling… oh I mean ‘Galbraith’ though we all know it’s her. If you are from Britain and remember when the news covered that it had been revealed she had been writing under a pseudonym then it was this particular book that was being referred to. I guess, as far as the publishers were concerned, it wasn’t selling well enough for such a high value author so they needed to ‘leak’ her name to boost sales.

You can have cliché characters, I mean 90% of literary detectives from the past few decades could fit into the depiction of Strike, apart from his leg, and you wouldn’t notice. Grizzled, likes a drink, ‘seen things’ in combat/police work and generally dislikes humanity except when women throw themselves at them for a quickie. One day someone will write a cross over where one detective replaces the other and no one notices until they actually see their face.

I think my main issue with this adaption, on the assumption the book covers these things, is we get small, but sequence destroying, skips in events. For example does Strike ever lock his office’s entrance? It must be on a latch as every walks in and out of it freely and occasionally people are sat in there waiting though both Strike and Robin hadn’t been in since yesterday. It’s a narrative device we often unconsciously witness. As an example: if you see a character pick up a key the audience acknowledge this and therfore you can skip to them opening the door and without  literally depicting them put the key in the lock – but here we don’t even have the ‘key’ mentioned in passing let alone seen sometimes before seeing the results. In the context of this series it seems everyone immediately gives Strike their life story and not barrier stops him except for tension (e.g. the safe opening). Nor, if I’m honest, do there seem to be any repercussions to certain actions. Does no one wonder where Lula’s will came from when Strike hands it over? Do we really think it would be as easy as Strike pretending to be taking a phone call to walk right into the studio of Guy Some? The police detective seems to just give Strike case information freely without quit pro quo. Strike pays off a criminal to steal the Satnav from the car and it’s never mentioned otherwise.

Everything slots too easily into to place to the point there is no risk nor resistance to Strike uncovering the truth – he even gives chase through a crowded market with little issue though he has an apparently ill fitting prosthesis! It all just comes too easily. If solving the mystery, as with Agatha Christie, isn’t the focus then give us more nuanced character development not just characters who are deemed highly intelligent because you name drop Oxford and Cambridge, are not morally good or physically capable just because they served in the army (was the criminal suggested to be ex-military? If so the depiction of ex-service men as either hero or villain is damning and isn’t a positive considering how many in real life find themselves incapable of re-adapting to civilian life thus falling between the cracks if they’ve no support) and not strangely flawless just because they’re female.

Apart from Rochelle, who seems more a figure of pity, all the women seem successful intelligent and only have faults because of the men they’re involved with. It’s a strangely anti-feminist (e.g. ‘here’s a dress as a bonus’, engagement issues being the main issue for Robin and Strike’s ex seems to instantly not just get re-engaged but marrying someone else in what seems to be a very brief time period), yet simultaneously misandranistic, tone posing as feminist as Rowling has with women where they’re both depicted as perfect, highly intelligent, beings surpassing their male counterparts with ease in every way but at the same time completely reliant upon them though every man has so critical flaw making them anything but sympathetic save for Strike as the leading man whose only permanent ‘flaw’ is a physical one. Most of the male characters are depicted as unrepentant in their antisocial behaviour and yet our leading man Strike, to a limited degree since this is the first book in an assured series (which other authors cannot reply on happening so their characters will evolve over a book), has some small progression from a misanthrope drunkard to a man slowly overcoming his limitations and finding worth in his life. Which is implied to be thanks to our heroine and her plucky attitude entering his life and not his own personal development having closure on what seemed a mutually destructive relationship with his ex. He just hadn’t met the right woman yet to make him a better man. The closest we got to a negative depiction of a woman was Strike’s ex who, after apparently having a very troubled relationship with him which they repeatedly tried to repair, quickly moved on though it’s presented as hypergamy. Oh and the ‘blow job for a fiver’ woman who just seemed, in the context of the series, to be a repugnant caricature of working class people or those on benefits – which Rowling famously once was before the first Harry Potter book got published and found it’s audience. It’s the sort of depiction of the less well off you only see in works of the pre-Victorian literature unless it’s by someone like Charles Dickens, Irvine Welsh, Niall Griffiths or Dorota Masłowska and others where it’s used for social commentary to discuss why these people ended up like this and with their often jaded worldviews.

You don’t get that with Rowling. Bad guys are bad guys. Men are flawed and most can’t be redeemed. Women are perfect except when they rely on men. Men need a woman’s intervention to change. Working class people are very likely criminal scum unless they’re too stupid to be. Basically J K Rowling would like to be the 21st century Agatha Christie but hasn’t accounted, realistically, for shifts in both literature and society.

Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling

An irreverent look at the first three episodes of the series which cover the first book in the series.

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A quick introduction to our protagonists

Cormoran Strike

His name alludes to the bird cormorant however it’s actually the name of a giant in Cornish folklore, especially Jack the Giant-Killer. Strike is a very blunt indication to the audience of his manner. Considering the sort of names detectives have there’s no pont mocking how on the nose it is…

Has social connections currency (rock star father, supportive sister)

but is still down on his luck (has debts due to loans)

but even then can afford to bribe working class people.

Has fighting and investigation experience (Afghanistan veteran. Former military police.)

Limitations: A fake leg hence he isn’t fit for the army nor the police but has the skills hence he became a private detectives and moral convictions so he’s not a drug smuggler capable of knowing how to avoid detection.

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Robin Venetia Ellacott

Young.

Office temp.

The first time she met Strike he nearly bumped into her sending her falling down the stairs but then he saved her by grabbing her by the breast. This is never made an issue of and you half wonder if they’ll mention it at some point down the road.

Offered a job by Strike but the teaser for episode two suggests she already has a job interview elsewhere. Commitment issues then…

Inquisitive/breaches confidentiality (looks up data on Strike in depth though somehow has never heard of him despite his father being well known).

Engaged to be married so not a romance option… yet.

Given an expensive dress as a gift at the end. Because that’s what employers do of course.

Limitations: Commitment issues. Ginger. Her middle name is Venetia. She is a sidekick named Robin helping a detective who wears a lot of dark clothing. Even Strike remarks on it in the novel. Wink, wink audience I’m not a lazy writer it’s all meta-narrative intertextuality. I didn’t even bother to change the spelling to something like Robyn.

Verdict: Robin is a self insert fantasy version of Rowling and the sort of man she would like to do the dirty with. Taming him like Kathy tried to tame Heathcliff except Robin is going to be successful.

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The Case of the Clandestine Cuckoo’s Call

Episode 1

An introduction to the by the book cliches so we need never cover character development ever again. Ever. Even after the next ten or so books that Rowling has announced she has planned for Cormoran and Robyn to trundle through with their gradually building, unresolved, sexual tension.

A model leaves a party and returns home and changes into more comfortable clothes. Next thing we know she falls to her death from her balcony and lies dead in the street as the snow continues to slowly fall.

Three months later and it’s been ruled a tragic suicide… but is it? BUT IS IT?!

No, obviously, otherwise the rest of this show would have a very original ending for a detective series where Strike admits actually the police got it right. And Robin would be jobless but that’s besides the point. You tuned in to see a murder be solved not see the trials and tribulations of an office temp.

We begin when Robin, a plucky young point of view character, enters the scene.

She arrives at the office where someone angrily walks out.

We meet the dishevelled detective. Cormoran Strike. He has problems. He has a past.

The office is in disarray.

He is bleeding after a fight with his disgruntled ex-fiancée, Charlotte Campbell, who is exiting the scene. Also she plays no other role in the show except to cause Strike to go out and get drunk at one point so he and Robin can bond. So forget her name. In fact forget the name of everyone but Strike and Robin as they’re all cardboard cut outs you’ve seen time and time again in other crime dramas. Even in adaptions of Sherlocke Holmes no one notices if you omit Lestrade and Mycroft. Same thing for these books so I won’t bother with names for the most part.

As he chases Charlotte he accidentally bumps Robin who nearly falls down the stairs to her death. Except he grabs her breast. Heroic. How many women’s lives have been lost because a man feared to grab a woman by her chest when no other part of the body was in reach? We will never know…

He offers her the temp job. Maybe because he needs the help. Maybe to avoid an accusation of sexual harrassment. We will never know…

He heads out to go drink alcohol. Also to do research in places of group meeting. i.e. the pub.

Robin looks through his papers and looks him up online. Because you look up your employer after accepting a job obviously – and at work so you don’t waste personal time.

A squirely man, generically named John, comes to meet Strike and says his older brother, Charlie (who didn’t bite his brother’s finger), played football with Strike when little. Strike doesn’t remember him though he remembers Charlie. Ooh isn’t he blunt? Isn’t he honest? Already someones knees are trembling!

An investigative police detective offers him the police’s findings when meeting in a cafe. No pretext why… which is no doubt illegal. But that’s how it goes down in the dark underbelly of… wherever the hell this is set in London. Near a posh bit though meaning his office isn’t just run down but actively depreciating the value of properties around him due to how it looks. Really into that shabby chic look. Even has a completely random pipework piece of art on the wall to give it a more grungy look.

He goes to the apartment of the victim and the doorman lets him in to look around and there’s even a well timed coincidental meeting with the neighbours and their driver. Don’t worry the driver is irrelevant after a single conversation.

Strike goes to meet someone but UH OH it’s the uncle, Tony, warning him off the case! The uncle refers to his nephew John. Stop the investigation he warns Strike. John’s so jittery they’ve had to get a shake plate to counteract it as he’s doing structural damage to the law firms offices. He’s doing it at such a frequency he’s phasing through the walls now.

Then Strike walks down a street where out of the blue a working class woman offers him a blow job for money. Because that’s exactly what all working class women do with their day when you are a multi-millionaire author living in a mansion even though you yourself were on benefits once and should know better than describe them like that. He refuses but when he can’t instantly be given the information he wants from a drop in drugs rehabilitation medical clinic he pays the woman to create a distraction so he can trespass into the office, photo documents and contact the suspect.

He meets the suspect, Rochelle Lulla’s homeless friend she met at the drug rehabilitation centre, in a cafe but she runs away. However she only runs around one or two corners so even with the fake leg he keeps up with some effort.

During all this his leg gives him trouble going up stairs, and generally, seems to be an ill fit for him which he should get replaced. But after this episode it never bothers him again… in fact for a guy with a prosthetic he is rather sprightly… almost as if they never told the actor to be conscious that the rle required it whenever they did a full body shot…

The episode ends with him finding the homeless friend in a council flat lying dead in an overflowing, and steaming, bathtub. He tries to do CPR having first wasted time shouting her name in an over dramatic manner. Will she survive? This is the end of an episode and she isn’t Robin so obviously it’s no.

Also this show has really outdone itself. ‘Black guy dies first’ was in effect but also that women get it worse so the first two people to die are both black women… At this rate the door man needs to watch his back.

Episode 2

The homeless friend is dead. Life goes on. Apparently Strike is an Oxford dropout because we can’t trust anyone but a Oxbridge candidate to be capable of solving mysteries. Of course he is because ‘just’ being a former member of the military police wasn’t enough. He has a normal, if somewhat neurotically normal, sister who offers him a bed, which he refuses, and becomes instantly chummy with Robin as if they just instantly click. Meanwhile Strike goes to interview the dead girl’s mother and Lula’s boyfriend who wears a wolf mask because… that’s how Rowling sees the fashion industry? The model there strikes up a conversation with Strike. She was a Cambridge candidate… because we can’t have anyone who isn’t in the top 5% of society with money be a character it seems even for minor figures. She knew his friend and his father – but she assures him she hasn’t slept with them. Oh, okay, thanks… I mean did he need to know about that. Can you guess what happens? A detective meets a beautiful woman… come on… you don’t even need three guesses… that’s right they have sex because he is just that irresistible. She even likes the artificial leg. Then leaves him sleep in at her apartment as she goes off for a morning shoot. Because every detective is a lion sleeping on the rock in the midday sun.

After returning to the officer Robin tells him she didn’t gossip with his sister as if she did him a favour. She also tells him, after his given her a job that she’s got an interview for a HR job elsewhere and has written it in the work diary. I mean she is a temp so okay of course she has to apply elsewhere but to write it in the work’s diary is psychotic as if she thinks that’s normal and not throwing her current employment in his face. Strike visits the downstairs neighbours of Lula. Of course the wife is using the in door swimming pool because hey what well off past middle age woman doesn’t get introduced doing this activity? Oh also she wants grime like Strike. Because he’s a walking sex machine no woman can resist. He’s John Shaft – can you dig it? The doorman also uses that pool apparently we learn later. Robin goes to her interview, gives an incredibly vague answer and on the same day is offered the job… because that’s how life happens for some people apparently? I mean yes if you’re an internal applicant since you’re in the building but she is a temp from an agency presumably unknown to the company she just applied to.

Lula’s boyfriend is already in Strike’s office though the door was, presumably, locked. It’s never mentioned why he came in here and waited save we are meant to always detest him and suspect he did it. His characterisation is done so heavy handedly he risks going into a pantomime routine at any moment. Every scene he is in he is needlessly antagonistic to the point the only way he could realistically be like that is if he was permanently in withdrawal and mentally ill. But it’s never explained so ‘he’s just a nasty piece of work’ is all we can surmise. Also that he’s such a red herring that him actually being involved in Lula’s murder would have been a double fake out reveal.

So Strike figures out the neighbour wife was stuck out on the balcony because her husband is an abuser. We never have any interaction with the husband so we just have to accept this version of events. Women are always victims and men always broken in some way. So then we cut to Strike and the police detective discussing Rochelle’s (the dead friend) death. In a cafe. In the middle of the day. Apparently that doesn’t break any sort of courtesy rule let alone law leading to his immediate firing and likely sentencing for what might amount to an effort to pervert the course of justice if he’s unlucky. Nope – the metropolitan police are the reference library service of crime and you don’t even have to file a freedom of information act request to get extensive details from them.

Sometimes it seems like Strike assumes things and it happens to be true. A better writer might go with that and prove sometimes, even with his extensive training, he can be wrong by doing things by instinct.

So Strike talks again to the overly helpful doorman. Apparently the doorman uses the indoor pool. They seem to make a bit of a big deal about the fact he was away from his station for 15 to 20 minutes while going to swim. Personally I think he would be there longer if he did more than 2 or 3 lengths. Also, and more realistically, there are times when he would be away from the desk when he goes to the toilet. There seems to be some confusion between what a doorman does and what a guard dog does. He isn’t chained to the entrance. So the doorman gives Strike the CCTV recording of the night when Lula was killed. I guess as a pay off for not revealing he abandoned his post but still this is all a bit too easy…

Vashti comes up as a place where Lula tried on clothes on the day of her death.

Leather gloves come into the equation as they were a gift from Guy Some to Lula but the boyfriend also had a pair (why he has a pair of these unreleased fashion items is only, at most, brushed over next episode as Guy gives people stuff).

Strike finds clues like it’s going out of style. Oh wait no. They’re just being handed to him on a silver platter.

At the office Robin answers the phone and Strike’s ex is on the other end. He speaks to his ex and she has already, in what must be the space of a week at most, found a new man and is going to marry him. Hypergamy? Fear of becoming an old maid? We never know. She was a plot device to make us sympathise with Strike.

He says he’s going out for a while so Robin can shut up shop by herself.

She, for no real reason, goes looking for him and finds him in the pub from before. He is of course steaming drunk. However, unrealistically, he’s also terribly PC telling Robin she’s a good person and other such platitudes. The closest he gets to trouble is calling another man ‘beardy’ though of course he has something more than a 5 o’clock shadow himself.

So she takes him back ‘home’ to the office with a carton of chips.

He watches the CCTV on his laptop and announces ‘Got you’… because ‘oi beardy’ and wondering if he was about to get his clock cleaned would have been too funny a cliffhanger.

Oh and at some point he had taken his leg off and instead of putting it back on urinated in an empty cup and, when Robin offers the next morning to clear it away unaware what it contains, he quickly refuses and throws it out the window. If someone doesn’t find a clip of someone getting water thrown on their head out of the blue and made an edited together YouTube video of it then this is wasted potential. Also the uncle is having a fling with the abused downstairs neighbour wife (so maybe they get a happy end after the series though nothing is mentioned in the third episode).

Episode 3

We start immediately in a flashback of Sergeant Strike’s army days as part of a convoy of vehicles. A truck is blocking the path and he notices a guy use a mobile to phone someone. As the convoy is about to pass Strike calls out ‘wait!’ There’s an explosion. Next thing a boy, who was stood with the phone man at the side of the road, points an automatic handgun at Strike, looks at his missing leg and smiles before winking and walking away. The camera pans out and we see Strike lying on the ground with his leg missing surrounded by the corpses of his comrades.

He vomits upon waking. We cut to Robin, pristine walking down the road and arriving at Vashti’s to try on clothes and lure the shop assistant into gossiping about Lula’s last day alive when she visited there. Robin says Strike is her brother and when he turns up and gives his usual gruff offhanded assessment, after giving a a look up and down before revealing himself, that her dress is ‘nice’ and nothing more the shop assistant comments that her brother is like that too. With a little better execution this would have been an amusing scene but it loss a bit of potential in adaption.

Strike is still a bit hung over. Robin tells him what she learned about an abscent shop assistant having tapes a conversation with Lula where she divulges about being excited about meeting someone.

So it’s time to tick off another lead and they visit Guy Some at his studios which are filled with models and such. At reception Strike, unbelievably, pretends to be on the phone and walks by trying to blag his way in. Maybe it was meant as comedy or seriously – it’s hard to tell with this series. To be honest it should have been written a bit more as a comedy as it is so cliché. If it had been this series would be much better.

Guy stops them and calls them out on what they’re doing but allows them in. They go sit in his office and apparently his real name is Kevin. Again I’m not sure if this is meant to be funny or not. In fact he’s a little racist towards white people but nothing much seems to get made of it nor is it really commented on. Apparently that’s preferable to his story about how his father beat him when he wore a dress when little. They see the unreleased gloves and other bits which were given to Lula as a present. I think at this point Guy says he gave them to the boyfriend to so he’s off the hook finally.

So onto the next scene. They return to Lula’s apartment as if it’s got a revolving door. Strike bought flowers for no real reason besides a pointless face hiding moment. Why even return there really except to notice changes with are inevitable since it’s being cleared for the next tenant. They find a library card so Robin will go to the library tomorrow and do some research. Sure… I mean that was in your job description wasn’t it? He gives the flowers to Robin and this leads to her in the next scene having a minor conflict with her fiancé. He is talking of the future but she doesn’t know what she wants.

Meanwhile Strike is down the pub drinking and smoking.

The next day he goes to visit Lula’s adoptive mother. She insists on watching old movies which have a password on them for no good reason. The password is Leopard_1942. She says that’s the year she was born. Because you need to know she is old… no not just ‘of a more advanced age than myself’ no I mean the message is she is OLD O L D – the sort of old that children refer to when they speak about anyone who isn’t a child. Lula’s adoptive white mother is super old. So old. Practically dust already. Except… you know… there are still people that age alive and well so making such a grandstand of it is a bit convoluted but they treat her like she is over a hundred years old the way she behaves. The excuse of course being she is being heavily drugged medicinally so she is a bit out of it though it’s never specified in the adaption what the issue is save being terminally ‘old’. Strike bought some macaroons along to sweeten her up. She’s on a sort of drip feed medicine or dialysis machine so I don’t that’s wise.

So the nervous brother, John, appears. He tells Strike that Lula had been trying to find her birth father. I think it’s mentioned her birth mother was already dead.

Meanwhile Robin goes to the library and uses Lula’s card to see what books she checked out. Maybe things have changed since I last used mine but I’m pretty sure what she does using a computer there to see what ‘she’ last looked at doesn’t exist in real life. At the very least having access to digital copies of research papers… and if they were digital why would they need to be checked out when multiple electronic copies can be looked at simultaneously?

Strike returns to Vashti the next day and finds the other shop assitant there. He tells her recording conversations is illegal and demands a copy of it. So that’s some blackmailing going on there then…

Next Strike and Robin are sat where else but the pub.

Lula’s birth father was a Ghanaian academic but has died since. She shows Strike a photo of Lula’s birth father and birth brother. Strike recognises the belt of the brother’s military uniform instantly. He deduces she must have been going to meet her birth brother not their father. Well yes with the father being dead that would be the obvious answer unless this takes a turn for the occult.

Coincidentally the birth brother, Jonah, is still in the country and meets Strike at the embassy or military base. Her birth brother blames himself for her death as he couldn’t bring himself to meet her. Their father didn’t even know he had a daughter. He resented she was so well off while their birth mother suffered as Lula refused to aid her find her two missing sons before she died as she always sold her story to the press as she was so poor. Apparently Lula had informed him she was leaving everything she had to him and had wanted to piss off her adoptive uncle.

Later Strike encounters the uncle who immediately says he will have to add stalking to his charges against Strike for harassment. Strike says he paid the concierge to have an alibi though the uncle insists, from the very start, he had Lula’s best interests at heart.

Strike goes to a pool hall and enlists the aid of a down on his luck ex-soldier turned full time crook. He asks him to get someone to steal a particular sat-nav but not the car it’s in.

Robin turns the HR job offer down as she wants to be part of Strike’s line of work instead. She then goes home and has an argument with her fiancé. Out of the blue he makes a comment to the effect she will go sleep with Strike. He claims it’s a joke but there seems to be some previous event we, as the audience, are never told about which might tarnish our opinion of Robin. It’s a heavy handed scene to make us dislike him though we know so little about him. See ths guy? ‘I think he’s a wanker and you need to agree’ style writing.

Strike talks to the detective on the case and surmises that the killer will kill again if he needs to. Playa gonna play, killa gonna kill. At this point I do wonder if any women were ever under consideration apart from Rochelle. It’s a bit awkward the one working class character in the series to have relevance to the case was a former drug addict portrayed negatively (alongside miss ‘wanna blowjob’) while figures like Evan Duffield, Lula’s on and off boyfriend and depicted as nasty despite the drug use. The lower orders are animals who cannot control themselves apparently.

Back at the Creswel house the mother is drugged up and can”t remember anything about whether her son was there or not on the night. She then out of the blue comments on how her husbands friends were ‘queer’ and had good taste choosing John…

… um wait. Are we being told John a.k.a. Nervous brother was sexually abused by friends of the family? Or is she just severely homophobic (so we are back to the ‘so old…. she’s like a dinosaur’ image the show is portraying)? It’s a very out of place sudden moment.

Strike says he needs to use the toilet but really he’s going to go snooping around the house. There is usually a nurse present in the house so you would assume she was around but… I guess she was ‘using the indoor pool’ so she is out of the way without explanation.

The uncle arrives knowing Strike is there. How? Who knows but the pressure is on. Strike is in Lula’s old room, which he recognised by the red mittens her adoptive mother mentioned a few times, except actually it’s John’s room. He cracks the safe just in time to pretend to come out of the toilet and announce to the stunned uncle that he should give it a few minutes. Apparently the house had a few toilets which while possible would have been checked in minutes by someone determined to do so like the uncle just now.

Nonetheless Strike escapes with the documents. Next stop is the pool hall to pay off his criminal contact who laments that his ‘boy’ was very sad to have to leave the car where it was. Also he’s given a broken bike bell the robber also took for no real reason except I guess it was shiny and adds to a plot that never really gets developed during this adaption.

Back at the office Robin tells Strike she didn’t accept the HR job. He informs her that he probably won’t be able to keep her on once this job is done. She finishes for the day and… goes down the pub to cry and drown her sorrows. That must be one hell of a pub seat as it’s always the exact same pub and table they sit at.

Strike reviews the evidence. He has what is best described as a ‘recently on _____’ like episode recap of all the moments of the show so far in hopes the audience will instantly piece it all together. It’s trying to do the BBC Sherlock thing but on the cheap. It’s a bit embarrassing. Apparently when he said he ‘had you’ at the end of last episode he meant ‘I’ve a clue to follow’ rather than he identified the culprit.

John, with a bottle of wine, arrives to congratulate him on finding Jonah, the blood brother, to be punished for Lula’s death. Remember John, the adoptive brother, hired Strike to prove her death wasn’t a suicide, as the police concluded, but a murder.

But here is the denouement! He reveals the killer! He worked it out using the evidence suddenly… and because it’s coming to the end and someone has to be the culprit!

It was…

It was…

John! The guy who hired him!

Dun dun durr…

Strike had lured him out of the house via Robin setting up a false meeting and went and got the will. (Which I’m sure is illegal).

Strike tells him the following:

Tony, the uncle not the tiger, knew he killed her but couldn’t admit it to himself. How does Strike know this? It’s never really explained…

He lays out how Jon had the opportunity what with his mother being too drugged to know if he was home or not (oh also he lives at home with his mother – what a loser! I mean even if she is terminally ill let’s judge all people in a similar situation as weirdos right? Right? Because that’s what comfortably well off writer’s seem to be doing right now and ignoring the current housing economy and outdated things like family love), got the gloves at the flat to cover his finger prints (which is sheer coincidence) and framed Jonah for the murder (again how did he know Jonah was going to turn up? Another coincidence!) allowing him to remain appearing innocent. EXCEPT IT WAS PRESSUMED A SUICIDE SO HE WAS IN THE CLEAR IF HE HADN’T RANDOMLY DECIDED TO GET STRIKE INVOLVED. I have to assume he couldn’t find the will… but he had it already! There must be some other convoluted reason which the adaption glosses over.

He also knows he killed Charlie, john’s brother and Strike’s best friend when they were little, because he has the broken bell John kept in his car and the day Charlie died was the code to the safe in his room. The latter would be a memorable date and as for the bell it could have been recovered from the quarry Charlie fell into and John kept it in memory of his brother but… no it’s easier to suggest her took it from the crime scene when little as if to say he’s been a killer all his life. Some people are just born evil apparently and not because of circumstances moulding them COUGH-Voldemort and Snape-COUGH

The stolen will proves John is guilty. Maybe it wasn’t Lula’s old room but John’s so why did he have the mittens? A trophy? Maybe he wanted to be Lula. Maybe he’s gay. Maybe he’s a repressed transexual. Maybe he’s bisexual. Maybe it’s Maybelline. The show throws out the hints but never confirms it just like Rowling’s other works. Dumbledore was gay – the evidence was there in the series you just never put two and two together but Rowling can’t connect the dots for you otherwise she misses out on that lucrative super-conservative market of readers. And if you don’t notice it you’re a homophobe!

It’s obvious that John loved his adopted brother but when Strike took his attention away John couldn’t deal with it and committed an act of passion! And then Lula was with her drugged up boyfriend he knew he could be better for her but she rejected him and it was another crime of passion!

… and that’s what happens when you over read into things boys and girls.

Anyway so the will proves he killed everyone. Lula, Charlie – even Rochelle who ‘knew too much’ and phoned him to tell him about Strike and ended up paying with her life for it as she was deemed unreliable too (if John had a major issue with drug use, whether due to daily seeing what it did to his mother or otherwise, in the books it clumsily included here).

Strike declares that money was a secondary motive to John. The primary one was envy. Why? Because John kept Charlie’s bicycle bell. John’s mother liked to categorise her children: the smart one, the pretty one, the funny one – but John was always second in his mother’s eyes. (So add implied Oedipus complex too while we are giving him every issue under the sun to demonise him as bluntly as possible).

The leather gloves were the fatal mistake. They are porous. Criminals sweat and so John sweated over everything despite thinking he avoided leaving evidence. How Strike knows this and that John didn’t wipe every surface as well as wear the gloves is beyond me though it makes logical sense. It comes across more as a bluff than astute knowledge unfortunately. I mean skin flakes and hairs would also be left behind inevitably to be picked up by a thorough investigation. At least this has up to date, if glossed over, modern forensics being mentioned.

Strike says criminals sweat – and John is sweating.

So do people who exercise… Getting thin to manipulate people. Building muscle to strong arm people. It’s all there. People who sweat are all criminals. And if you don’t exercise but are sat in a very warm room the police are already onto you too. In Summer everyones a crook.

So that is the ‘playground taunt’ necessary to start the inevitable attempted murder fight. John breaks the bottle over Strike’s head. Then they tussle. Then the bottle is broken and being lowered onto Strike’s neck as he resists. They throw each other about a bit and break the frosted glass of the the door.

Then Robin appears and hits John with a fire extinguisher through the broken window. However, now having the advantage, Strike begins to repeatedly punch the unconscious John repeatedly in the face until Robin tells him to stop. There are no consequences to Strike’s assault. Act of passion and all that.

Time passes.

Time passes.

So John’s mother is also dead now. Thus all the Cresswell family members are dead save the uncle. He maybe be an adulterer but it’s with a woman in an abusive marriage which makes it okay (apparently). He says he will honour Lula’s will. He says he didn’t know what happened with Charlie and wanted to protect the family. (I have no idea why Lula didn’t like him actually though that seemed to play a part throughout it all with everyone assuming there was animosity between them). Also he will pay Strike what John owed him. Which wouldn’t happen in a noir story – the detective would just be thankful he got out alive.

At Strike’s office Robin answers the phone which won’t stop ringing constantly. Hey guess what Strike bought her ‘a bonus’. It’s the green dress she tried on at Vashti’s. She reminds him she knows how much it costs. He assures her it’s fine as they’ve plenty of work so he can afford to give her a permanent job as he was able to pay off all his debts.

For the final shot he walks out side, lights a cigarette and walks down the road in slow motion.

The End.

Fun fact: I looked up things and the downstairs neighbour’s wife is the sister of the partner in the uncle’s law firm. So everyone is connected however if it was mentioned in the show it is a very blink and you miss it moment. Hence why they were having an affair. Also Guy Some called Lula cuckoo so that’s where the title comes from. She didn’t call anyone though at the time of her death so… yeah. ‘It’s just a cool sounding title’… There are a lot of small elements you would have to be intensely focused on listening and absorbing in a short period of time but the overall tone and pacing of the show suggests it’s more easy going that it is. In fact there is a lot the adaption glossed over to the point a few minor characters got cut.


The collections of scenes from the episodes were compiled by Katerina Varela so please go visit her YouTube page and show her some support.

I quite enjoyed the story, cliche filled as it was, but it did have a lot of conveniences and I’m guessing a lot has been lost in the adaption from book to screen including seemingly minor, but essential, pieces which connected the various dots of the narrative.

Well I hope that was enjoyable. I will try to do it for the rest of the series too. Next is The Silkworm so that will be up in a fortnight unless they mess around with the scheduling again as they did by having episodes one and two on consecutive nights then left about a week until showing episode three which concluded this case.

28 панфиловцев a.k.a. Panfilov’s 28 Men a.k.a. Battle of Moscow

A 2016 war film based on the Soviet propaganda legend about a group of soldiers, Panfilov’s Twenty-Eight Guardsmen, who heroically halt and destroy Nazi tanks headed for Moscow before they all perishing together on the battlefield. It is set in the Eastern Front of World War II and covers the 8th Guards Rifle Division operations during the 1941 Battle of Moscow

Supported by the gamers of War Thunder. The film was crowd funded by the donations of 35,086 people. Thus allowing the specially set up Panfilov’s 28 film studio to be made for the project with financial support from the Russian Ministry of Culture and the Russian Cinema Fund with assistance of the Kazakhstan Ministry of Culture and Sport in partnership with Shaken Aimanov Kazakhfilm with the assistance of the Russian Military-Historical Society.

… so yes. Just like the American army gives money towards Hollywood films that promote them, including the Transformers franchise, so too do Russian and Kazakhstan government departments. However if the Russian Military-Historical Society had access to the vehicles they are the ones who contributed the most although my assumption is they were more likely acting as the background extras in the scenes that required it while trained actors were at the forefront ad the vehicles were provided by the government departments.

Directed by

Kim Druzhinin
Andrey Shalopa

Produced by

Anton Yudintsev
Andrey Shalopa

Screenplay by

Andrey Shalopa

Starring

Aleksandr Ustyugov
Yakov Kucherevskiy

Azamat Nigmanov
Oleg Fyodorov
Aleksey Morozov

Music by

Mikhail Kostylev

Cinematography

Nikita Rozhdestvenskiy

Production
company

Panfilov’s Twenty Eight
Gaijin Entertainment

Release date

November 24, 2016 (Russia)

Running time

105 minutes

Country

Russia

Language

Russian

Budget

$1,700,000

Box office

$6,346,968 (January 2017)

₽385 million CIS
₽366.6 million roubles (Russia)
₸61.3 million tenge (Kazakhstan)

PLOT

USSR, late November 1941. Based on the account by reporter Vasiliy Koroteev that appeared in the Red Army’s newspaper, Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star), shortly after the battle, this is the story of Panifilov’s Twenty-Eight, a group of twenty-eight soldiers of the Red Army’s 316th Rifle Division, under the command of General Ivan Panfilov, that stopped the advance on Moscow of a column of fifty-four German tanks of the 11th Panzer Division for several days. Though armed only with standard issue Mosin-Nagant infantry rifles and DP and PM-M1910 machine guns, all useless against tanks, and with wholly inadequate RPG-40 anti-tank grenades and PTRD-41 anti-tank rifles, they fight tirelessly and defiantly, with uncommon bravery and unwavering dedication, to protect Moscow and their Motherland.

SYNOPSIS

“Commemorating war does not only mean sorrow and grief. We also remember the battles and heroism that brought victory.”

– Commander, Panfilov Division, Bauyrzhan Momyshuly

November 14, 1941

A training barracks outside Moscow.

‘Of course mental strength matters most. Physical strength and courage too, but not so much.’ is the opening dialogue of the film.

Notably though in the dialogue you hear tovarishch ( Товарищ ) the subtitles omit this. Good in one way to avoid excessive subtitles but it omits indicating who is a citizen and who is a party member for those with a bit more of an in depth knowledge of the era.

A group meeting is held outside as the commanding officer or sergeant explains a tank’s weaknesses. Molotov cocktails are handed out.

The commander rides off on a white horse as the meeting continues.

A practise is arranged to train how to attack a German tank. The officers smoke saying the battle will be historic with looks of foreboding concern clear on their faces.

A war story report about a comrade Filin who was killed taking out an anti-tank gun with grenades is read by a lieutenant. The soldiers discuss the bulletin half mocking how often they’ve heard it repeated as they cut wood to make the tank model for their practise.

At sun set the wooden frame tank is dragged by the soldiers as one stood in a hole is informed how to act.

Inside the officers discuss recent military movements and the impending confrontation.

Many are Asian, specifically from Kazakhstan, which you wouldn’t see in a western film of these events despite the geographical area Russia covers as the old propaganda always depicted Russians as 7 foot tall, platinum blonde, white men with heavy athletic builds – which ironically meant they then had to go hire Scandinavian actors, e.g. the Swedish Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV, to depict this stereotype as it really isn’t as common in Russian heritage as they would like to think (though of course you have the Slavic ethnic group we most common think of when thinking of ‘a Russian’ who share a common genetic heritage with the Ukranians, Polish, etc). Of course this all came to a head with Arnold Schwarzenegger, a universally well known Austrian, in Red Heat. The irony being that, in the Soviet era, they depicted Americans in much the same way, overtly tall and muscular brutes, and so there was a lot of surprise after the fall of the Berlin Wall, from both sides, that actually they look more or less the same as each other being a mix of ethnicities and appearances.

The officers remain and discuss their concerns as the soldiers have a snowball fight outside ignorant of their impending fate as they’ve been stationed doing little if anything besides digging trenches pointlessly for some time now.

Everyone prepares to move out the next day.

A soldier leaves his woman behind. Is she his lover, wife, girlfriend, cousin or sister? We never know. (I looked away for a second but I don’t think the scenes given any more context than ‘cliché scene to insert for soldier’s beginning to move out leaving their loved one’s behind’. We never see her again nor is she mentioned.

Later the commanding officer addresses the assembled soldier backlit by a spotlight. He says inspirational things – how they’ll defend their beloved motherland and the ‘great’ German army will know failure. History has known many brave warriors but none more so than them defending not only Moscow but the rest of their homeland.

Marching a soldier tells a story of a village who were being attacked by bandits so chose to fight and hired an expert – a samurai. 40 bandits vs 7 men. The warriors built fortifications. The gang was defeated. Someone says they heard it but it was in America and cattle herders. They laugh and joke.

The officers discuss not being detected by the Germans and ask the commanding officer not worry about it. The CO tells them to dig in and hold their ground. Stand firm but stay alive – that is the paradox they are presented with he admits.

The soldiers continue discussing their tales of heroic warriors. Now they move onto the battle of Thermopylae. (As seen in Frank Miller’s 300 or it’s film adaption by Zack Snyder). Perhaps it is just me but this film is being a bit apocryphal citing seven samurai and 300… would Soviet soldiers know of either of those events? Of course the film makers are alluding to their films by Kurosawa and Snyder which themselves are based on the embellished legends of historical events and therefore this is a knowing wink to the audience that the film-makers here too acknowledge what they are depicting is somewhat fantastical but intended, as the story was meant to at the time, be inspirational but at the same time early in the film, if not the first scene, we have the soldiers mocking such propoganda which isn’t something you see in American made war films. Quite refreshing really though of course this is one of many such films based on historical war events.

Later the soldiers are digging trenches and mock an old woman calling them heathens ‘worse than Muslims’ joking she mistook the Asian Kazakh Russians for Muslims and then asked if they ran out of ‘Russian Russians’. (again I would like to think this is a knowing wink to the audience but I have little doubt Kazakh troops faced prejudice at the time just as was the case in other countries including America which split their troop along racial lines often). They laugh and their supervisor scolds them it’ll be sunrise soon so they need to finish up and the Krauts will be there soon.

A machine gun is set up looking across the frozen fields before being put back into the hole.

A swerving trench is dug into a treeline. A captain criticises the placement of a cannon but decides they’ll test it later

Soldiers mock a soldier who, having read a political leaflet, asks where he can get a white flag… then add the Germans will kill you anyway so you’re stuck in the red army.

It was a common theme to jokes during the Soviet time: you could run from the red army but where would you go? If you run away during battle you’re only delaying the inevitable conflict. If, outside of times of conflict, you got the necessary papers to travel you can only go to another part of the Soviet Union unless you”re connected in the diplomatic services or find good enough forgeries. If you did somehow get outside the borders you probably have no connections as all the white emigre (i.e. the people who fled in 1917) escaped with their entire families decades ago and anyone who defects later has to have a use to the west to ensure they can do so (e.g. be an exceptional dancer, scientist, etc) or skillset (e.g. plumbing/engineering) in order to help them gain money to survive. In other words you’ve nowhere to go to… You’re already home… so get used to it and do what needs to be done to survive here! Fatalistic black humour is a keystone of Russia’s culture during this period.

One soldier wonders if they’ve disguised the cannon enough with white cloth and such. ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ he’s told how the Germans shot their air planes in the tail as there was not defensive gun there in it’s design thus leaving them vunerable until redesigned.

In the trenches others discuss fighting for their land. Because it is their land and otherwise there’s nowhere to live. Two forms of it exist: the Motherland can be burned – its where they live however the fatherland also exists – but it’s how they live. Someone asked ‘but if a Frenchman learned Russian they wouldn’t make him Russian?’ He’s teased that a German couldn’t be but if they fought the Nazis and learnt Russian then maybe a Frenchman could be.

A plane flies overhead. Its said it has paper thin armour. A soldier raises his rifle and is scolded that its foolish to do so. He shoots anyway and is joined by another.

Kazhan and other languages are spoken as the group is mixed. Soldiers discuss asking how well those outside Moscow live. A sack of potatoes. An old man is given barbed wire to fortify his shack but he says it’s pointless. The soldiers passing by couldn’t have any delicacies only what they could scrounge.

In the trenches the captain gets a radio call. They are to rise early tomorrow. The artillery commander arrives tomorrow. They’ll get support fire if needed.

Elsewhere under cover of night the Nazis run forward in formation preparing for the conflict tomorrow. In the trenches the red army men sleep. The Nazis uncover their cannons and begin shelling just before dawn. In the nearby village the old men look out wistfully. This is the last we see of them. Assume they’re dead because there will be nothing left on the horizon once the battles over.

A red army solider wonders if they know their locations or are shelling randomly. ‘3 hours no losses – except their hearing’. The captain approaches teases they couldn’t sleep. No answers one, not with this lullaby and is told they’ll have time to stretch their legs soon.

The captain mocks it is an orchestra but soon there will be an intermission and they’ll swarm the buffet. A solider is told to wear a helmet to protect his head as dirt flies past him.

The Germans begin moving forward in formation behind their tanks. When the shooting stops they’ll have arrived face to face with the Russians the Red Army captain is told.

The Russians take position under cover of the forest and wait for two shots to ring out signalling their counter attack. A solider mocks the Germans think they know the Russian weak point. Kazakhs, he says to his friend, they’ll show them Kazakh men when they attack Kazakhstan and is agreed with.

All is silent as we pan across the trenches where the soldiers are ready with their rifles poised.

A spotter reports what the German forces are composed of.

The captain signals to fire a cannon.

The spotter corrects the range.

The captain signals to fire again.

It strikes and some infantry are taken out but still the tanks move ever forward.

The Russian command centre marks of the map the events. Planes fly overhead… but they are German and the red army mock they’re like vultures ready to swoop down.

The CO is informed on the telephone of events. The trench soldiers begin firing and take out some infantry. A cannon takes out the treads of a tank. A volley nearly hits the trenches. The music is all in the minor key but building. A fragmentation shell is shot at the tanks being abandoned and kills its crew but another German tank takes out a cannon on the forest edge though the soldiers get into the trenches just in time.

The Kazakh sniper repositions as cover fire takes more infantry.

The Germans withdraw. Why the infantry march alongside the tanks seems foolish.

It’s commented they didn’t take long to leave. He’s told they’ll be back soon as he strikes up a cigarette. Isn’t it odd he says again. He’s told not to worry.

Another pair chat mocking that the Germans probably think anyone left alive will flee.

The Germans will change their tactics and hit the weak points. This was just a test.

The captain runs across a field to see a man, Pasha, being taken away on a horse drawn stretcher. He’s told everything is fine that they will be there when he returns to the front… but the captain has a look saying the bleeding wont stop and Pasha won’t make it.

Back at the trenches the soldiers smoke in silence. Sombre music plays.

In the trench’s office the captain reports to the CO. Six injured and Pasha went for treatment. Told to keep it up. As if there is another option…

It won’t be a sprinkler next time, he reflects after, but a downpour when the Germans attack again.

Natarov refuses to move as he wants to shoot a plane. He is told to take cover when it fails. Volleys of German cannon fire rain down along the trenches line knocking dirt about

‘See they don’t want to fight, saving themselves for Moscow – which is good for us – puts us at an advantage’ a soldier comments.

Another mocks ‘them being cowards certainly puts us at an advantage, lets hope they don’t bomb us to bits out of fear’.

The banter continues but it is acknowledged they’re not idiots even if they see tanks burning and people dying.

A massive volley of focused shelling rains down over the trenches. A solider sees his friend is dead buried under unsettled soil.

The sergeant in the bunker who said they were fearful now changes his tone reflecting the red army ranks will be thinned so they must become a stubborn thorn in the Germans side. ‘The strategy is no heroics’. He scolds a younger soldier who comments that’s it not a matter of choice to be shot.

An injured solider is being tended to by someone saying visiting the dentist is torture this is nothing – just as a shell sends him flying.

The sergeant reiterates no heroics – just burn tanks.

The commander paces back and forth as the radio operator tries to contact the fourth company who are out of contact. No success.

Shells continue to rain down.

The forest is left in smoking devastation. Soldiers slowly crawl out of the dirt checking who is or isn’t alive.

The captain goes around checking surviving numbers and having everyone regroup.

The German tanks begin moving again as the Russian dead are moved off the battlefield.

Off the front two more carts are ordered to carry people away and a message to be sent.

The Germans begin another assault on land. The lighting in the damaged trench is very cinematic suddenly in this one scene for the radio report to the CO. only 28 men left … but no re-enforcements can be sent. He has to hold the line. The CO sits back down disconcerted knowing he’s just given the group a death sentence.

The captain says nine tanks need to be set alight to send a message. He gives a rousing speech that they’ve nowhere to run.

”we’re out of options, brothers. Although our land seems vast, and we are ready to die for it, we have nowhere to retreat. And we cannot die until we stop the Germans because we’re defending the last line. After us, that’s it. After us, it’s Moscow.”

The soldiers resign themselves to their fate and begin preparing as the tanks approach.

Yakov is asked if the story is true the Nazis tired to blast him out of a dugout with grenades and he threw 14 back at them? He mocks that the story has already been blown out of proportion to that level. Lies, he says, but when pressed admits it was 5. then later they threw a sixth so he wouldn’t have time to react. The soldier asks for more but Yakov says he’ll tell him later. ‘When?’ demands the soldier. ‘At night, before bed’. As the soldier leaves he adds it wasn’t in the dugout either…

The sergeant says now its a matter of precision so they need to let them get closer so they know they’ve definitely hit them. Someone mocks he’s happy not to be a tank crewman as it’s certain death.

An older soldier prays. A younger soldier asks what he’s doing and he says nothing ‘for the motherland’ and the younger guy says that’s how it should be.

Everyone waits tensely. A few treads are taken from tanks by cannons but return fire takes out the crew of one cannon. Then the machine gun of a tank kills the Kazakh sniper so his colleague takes the anti-tank rifle and fires at the treads of one tank successfully. He hopes his brothers in arms rest easy now.

A machine gunner takes out Fascist infantry and one soldier wields a grenade. Grenades are thrown at the tanks. The machine gun give a new belt feed. A Molotov cocktail thrown on a tank. A rifleman mocks the machine gunner must be going for a record as he’s leaving none to be shot. A tank tries to shoot the machine gunner but misses. Then the feed ends and echoing shots of lone rifles ring out across the battle field.

Another anti-tank rifle man shoots a driver mocking he wont be swinging his cross around here… as Grisha the older soldier aids him…

a grenade takes out a tank and as another soldier tires to throw one he’s hit but throws it still. The German infantry are on top of the trenches now.

Red Army men are laid out side by side in the forest as the cannons are dragged further back by bleeding men.

A tank descends on 3 men. A grenade takes out the tank but two are shot. The survivor throws the Molotov cocktail and empties his machine gun. Fortunately a rifle man stops the tank by shooting the loner gunner.

Ammunition is running low so the surviving soldiers let the tanks pass in hopes to regroup and deal only with infantry.

A man crawls through the trenches picking up a grenade. But his is shot before he can throw it. But he can still shoot. So he crawls over the top and fires until he passes out. The man who aided him took the grenade and realises they’re losing.

The battle field is a mix of snow and charred soil. An anti-tank rifle is carried across the line and prepared. It takes out the treads of a tank. A cannon takes out the treads of another. The man calls for someone to bring a shell but no one is left alive so he grabs on off a nearby corpse. But this is enough time for the tank to aim its cannon and take him out along with the cannon he was manning.

An anti-tank rifle man and his brother are taken out. Then another. The tank climbs over the trench but gets stuck ripping soil out burying the corpses.

Slowly the Red Army soldiers are being picked off now one by one and buried by the tanks pulling over the trenches.

But a man rises out of the dirt (Yakov?) and throws a grenade before dying and it stops on of the tanks.

This gives the remaining men a second wind and one runs up, climbs the exterior and throws a Molotov cocktail into the window of the tank hoping it warms them up.

The riflemen and assault rifles hold the line but Vasily is hit and passing out telling Grisha and others to fight on. The survivors are running through the trenches and throw a Molotov into a tank on their way. Grisha is told to fire ‘at the pedestrians’ and is covered by another just as a grenade lands near them. They’re both find and go to find Diev.

More German infantry run across the field and now the Russians are down to small hand guns. The Germans fall to the ground when they think a grenade has been thrown. They realise it was a fake

The sergeant tells the injured political officer its okay only a few are left…

The German infantry walk over the barbed wire as the Russians lie in wait. One man picks up a hatchet like trench shovel. That’s all they’ve got now. Another holds a knife. Tension builds.

But a machine gun mows the Germans down. Who is it? A German tank commander looks through his binoculars. Its… I don’t know who. Younger guy. The belt feed seems to never end nor get jammed. One German makes a break for it but the feed continues again suddenly. Daniil was the man on the mounted machine gun.

Over the radio the German tank commander has an order to withdraw. And so the tank line moves back.

The Red army men breathe a sigh of relief.

The sun sets over the quiet smouldering landscape as black smoke pours out of the tanks above the snowy upturned fields.

Daniil joins the sergeant ‘saved some aces for last’. ‘it was luck’. ‘luck had nothing to do with it’. He jokes they’ll tell their grandchildren there were more then the 14 tanks they fought. They lament everyone of them is a hero… because so few are left. That’s how they fight… that’s how war is. A few others climb the mound in front of them and look out upon the horizon. It was a victory but it was a loss. So it is in Russian war fare. There is no glory.

We end on a monochrome sweeping image of the Soviet Realism styled statues erected in those fields and the markings of where the trenches were.

During the credits we see more of the monument erected to the men who died in a park. I don’t know it but I’m sure people who’ve been to Moscow would recognise it as before it an eternal flame is lit.

REVIEW

The music in this film is quite simple in it’s composition but has it’s charm. It’s not bombastic orchestral work like an American film just simple strings and accompaniment underpinning the tension and moments of determination we see the ensemble undergo.

The recent trend of shaky-cam during conflict scenes is thankfully avoided here so you will always clearly see events and know where things are within context of each other. The camera work is on the whole serviceable for the rest of the film but nothing particularly memorable.

Costume wise perhaps I felt at the start everyone was a little too clean, as was the criticism of Enemy At The Gates, but then they had only been training not in conflict at that point and it’s certainly gone by the point they’re in the trenches. As the historical society was involved no doubt they aimed for as much visual accuracy as possible however, in contrast, as the events are based on propaganda it is easy to believe that many events or the film are exaggerated for effect.

Set design, apart from the interior of the Commanding Officers room, is limited to exterior shots of , at most, small villages or the trenches. Maybe a lot of it was filmed on sound stages for all I know but you wouldn’t think so. Again, along with the camera work, it’s serviceable on it’s limited budget and thus achieves what it needs to if not at times excels like that one very cinematic shot moment of the shelled trench room when the radio request is made to the CO.

Of course the film is biased to come degree – all war films are even when they’re praised for being unbiased – but it was crowd funded and so there is that level of being indebted to the contributors… just as major films are to their producers. However as I noted they give nods acknowledging it’s based on propoganda and therefore even if these events occurred they’re heavily embellished stories and should not be taken as a report of fact unlike some other war films. But on the whole it’s a straight forward affair and if you’re looking for something about the Eastern Front of World War II it isn’t one I would say you shouldn’t see. Are there better films? Probably but I like the straight forwardness of this and that it doesn’t do any ‘big damn hero’ stuff until the final moment and to be honest when you hear about some of the real life things that occurred during war time it actually underplays how dramatic it could have been portrayed.

If I do have a criticism it’s probably the translation and subtitles. They should refer to the Nazis as Fascists because not all the forces aligned with the Germans were technically card carrying Nazis though were aligned with them. Look at my review of the Estonian film ‘1944’ to see a different perspective on it. Thus there is that issue though I image many would offer the counter argument that the Fascists in this film are all but faceless mooks there to be ‘the opposition’ either to kill the protagonists or be mowed down by them thus giving them any context beyond ‘target’ is asking too much especially for something based on propoganda.

Also if you wanted to read the credits on screen forget it unless you’re watching this on a cinema screen and have it at 4kD…

As for the DVD: it’s no thrills. You just get the subtitled film and a chapter select.

You like war films? Give it a go. You want to see a recently made Russian war film. Give it a go. You want to see what crowd funding (which then gets further funding from government sources admittedly) can achieve? Give it a go. Just don’t go in with high expectations. It gets the job done and is reasonably entertaining but it’s not something you will remember much about afterwards.

Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a 1962 play by Edward Albee. It examines the breakdown of the marriage of a middle-aged couple, Martha and George. Late one evening, after a university faculty party, they receive an unwitting younger couple, Nick and Honey, as guests, and draw them into their bitter and frustrated relationship.

The play is in three acts, normally taking a little less than three hours to perform, with two 10-minute intermissions. The title is a pun on the song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” from Walt Disney’s Three Little Pigs (1933), substituting the name of the celebrated English author Virginia Woolf. Martha and George repeatedly sing this version of the song throughout the play.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? won both the 1963 Tony Award for Best Play and the 1962–63 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play. It is frequently revived on the modern stage.

Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill star in a new production of the play, directed by James MacDonald, at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London currently (early 2017). This is the production I shall be discussing in this post from this point on though I do discuss the play in a broader aspect too while doing this.

Stage Layout

whose afraid of virginia woolf staging

 

Beige: stage floor

Light grey: Raised areas

Dark Grey: The entrance and the stairs leading up to the bedrooms.

Green: Access off stage. The lefthand door goes to the kitchen, the middle is the entrance to the house and living room and the one on the right leads to the toilet.

Purple: Offstage. I guess those sat on the right would have had some limited view but most events occur towards the front of stage.

Orange: The drinks trolley and the record player.

Red: the seating.

Brown: On the left the fireplace, centrally the table and the cabinet on which the piece of art sits.

Yellow: The triangle is the art piece they comment onn in the first act, the circles the bells that get hit at one point and the diamond a free standing light.

Thick black: Walls.

This image is an estimation of how everything was placed on stage. Kirsty Walk, during the brief break between acts 2 and 3 told us about the staging. The couch and lower level is set out like a boxing ring into which the characters enter to confront each other with the fireplace, doorway and reading areas act as the ringside where they take respite from the frisson of events as observers.

Plot summary

Act One: “Fun and Games”

George and Martha engage in dangerous emotional games. George is an associate professor of history and Martha is the daughter of the president of the college. After they return home, Martha reveals she has invited a young married couple, whom she met at the party, for a drink. The guests arrive – Nick, a biology professor (who Martha thinks teaches maths), and his wife, Honey. As the four drink, Martha and George engage in scathing verbal abuse of each other in front of Nick and Honey. The younger couple is first embarrassed and later enmeshed. They stay.

Martha taunts George aggressively, and he retaliates with his usual passive aggression. Martha tells an embarrassing story about how she humiliated him with a sucker-punch in front of her father. During the telling, George appears with a gun and fires at Martha, but an umbrella pops out. After this scare, Martha’s taunts continue, and George reacts violently by breaking a bottle. Nick and Honey become increasingly unsettled and, at the end of the act, Honey runs to the bathroom to vomit, because she had too much to drink.

Act Two: “Walpurgisnacht”

Traditionally, “Walpurgisnacht” is the name of an annual witches’ meeting (satiric in the context of the play). Nick and George are sitting outside. As they talk about their wives, Nick says that his wife had a “hysterical pregnancy”. George tells Nick about a time that he went to a gin-mill with some boarding school classmates, one of whom had accidentally killed his mother by shooting her. This friend was laughed at for ordering “bergin”. The following summer, the friend accidentally killed his father while driving, was committed to an asylum, and never spoke again. George and Nick discuss the possibility of having children and eventually argue and insult each other. After they rejoin the women in the house, Martha and Nick dance suggestively. Martha also reveals the truth about George’s creative writing escapades: he had tried to publish a novel about a boy who accidentally killed both of his parents (with the implication that the deaths were actually murder), but Martha’s father would not let it be published. George responds by attacking Martha, but Nick separates them.

George suggests a new game called “Get the Guests”. George insults and mocks Honey with an extemporaneous tale of “the Mousie” who “tooted brandy immodestly and spent half her time in the up-chuck”. Honey realizes that the story is about her and her “hysterical pregnancy”. The implication is that she trapped Nick into marrying her because of a false pregnancy. She feels sick and runs to the bathroom again.

At the end of this scene, Martha starts to act seductively towards Nick in George’s presence. George pretends to react calmly, reading a book. As Martha and Nick walk upstairs, George throws his book against the door. In all productions until 2005, Honey returns, wondering who rang the doorbell (Martha and Nick had knocked into some bells). George comes up with a plan to tell Martha that their son has died, and the act ends with George eagerly preparing to tell her. In what is labelled the “Definitive Edition” of the script, however, the second act ends before Honey arrives.

Act Three: “The Exorcism”

Martha appears alone in the living room, shouting at the others to come out from hiding. Nick joins her. The doorbell rings: it is George, with a bunch of snapdragons in his hand, calling out, “Flores para los muertos” (flowers for the dead), a reference to the play and movie A Streetcar Named Desire, also about a marriage and outside influences. Martha and George argue about whether the moon is up or down: George insists it is up, while Martha says she saw no moon from the bedroom. This leads to a discussion in which Martha and George insult Nick in tandem, an argument revealing that Nick was too drunk to have sex with Martha upstairs.

George asks Nick to bring Honey back for the final game – “Bringing Up Baby”. George and Martha have a son, about whom George has repeatedly told Martha to keep quiet. George talks about Martha’s overbearing attitude toward their son. He then prompts her for her “recitation”, in which they describe, in a bizarre duet, their son’s upbringing. Martha describes their son’s beauty and talents and then accuses George of ruining his life. As this segment progresses, George recites sections of the Libera me (part of the Requiem Mass, the Latin mass for the dead).

At the end of the play, George informs Martha that a messenger from Western Union arrived at the door earlier with a telegram saying their son was “killed late in the afternoon…on a country road, with his learner’s permit in his pocket” and that he “swerved, to avoid a porcupine”. The description matches that of the boy in the gin-mill story told earlier. Martha screams, “You can’t do that!” and collapses.

It becomes clear to the guests that George and Martha’s son is a mutually agreed-upon fiction. The fictional son is a final “game” the two have been playing since discovering early in their marriage that they are infertile. George has decided to “kill” him because Martha broke the game’s single rule: never mention their son to others. Overcome with horror and pity, Nick and Honey leave. Martha suggests they could invent a new imaginary child, but George forbids the idea, saying it was time for the game to end. The play ends with George singing, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” to Martha, whereupon she replies, “I am, George…I am.”

Review

When people debate the greatest plays ever written this one is regularly in top 10s and rightly so, when acted well it is one of the most devastating evenings of theatre you can encounter.

However the live broadcast of the current production I saw of it was not…

In a sentence I found that subtlety was thrown out for overt caricature which led the dark dry humour of the play to be performed as if it was an American sitcom.

There are only four roles in the play.

Martha – (Imelda Staunton) A screeching loud New Englander

the daughter of the president of the college

George – (Conleth Hill) an associate professor of history

A put upon ‘family man’ with a whiny nasal tonality

Nick – (Luke Treadaway) A stereotypical all American corn fed jock

a biology professor (who Martha thinks teaches maths)

Honey – (Imogen Poots) A squeaky voiced, ditzy, North West all American girl

Nick’s childhood sweetheart and wife

I think what set it off on the wrong foot was the preceding short documentary we were presented with about the play’s history with talking head after talking head telling us of how Albee has humorous dialogue. This led to certain members of the audience laughing at every few lines as if a laugh track was playing in their head telling them when, where and to what degree to laugh.

Do you ever feel like you’re the young child in the children’s story ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’? That is how I feel about this particular production. It has received glowing reviews but the bitterness of the characters and their predicament is lost in people doing the broadest impressions of Americans they can manage. For the time period and location the play is set it’s not inaccurate but I kept getting the feeling more effort was put into that side of the production than working on the nuances of each exchange between the characters. Maybe I just feel Imelda Staunton is too old to play the role. Yes controversial. How dare I say such a thing of a living legend. But it reminds me of when, in opera, you have people with visible grey hair performing the role of teenagers because they’re the ones with the ability to do so. The performance is good but when you have a very short woman in her 60s. Playing a woman in her 50s, pawing at a tall 32 year old (playing a 28 year old) it comes across as false he would have, at least in this production, an all but implied sexual liaison while his wife lies drunk in the toilet.

The whole production is oddly paced and plays out in the style of a 1960s sitcom in tone. I think what suits it better is to play it far more straight, to allow the black humour of the passive aggression play out without flourishes. Perhaps what I instinctively felt was there was no energy between the performers. Of course it’s about dysfunctional relationships but even that has an energy to it which I found lacking here and instead replaced with energy you expect of a comedy which doesn’t fit the tone I was expecting.

Imelda Staunton all but yells her lines. Each. And. Every. Time. This is a great acting by a living theatre legend? Her performance is praised but there is no nuance. Either she’s shouting, thrusting herself at Nick or rattling off stories intending to shame her husband… until the final scene which is performed well but is too little too late. Nuance be damned. It’s far too over the top. I saw her, in person, performing the role of Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother Rose in the 2015 production of Gypsy and can’t help but feel she has brought over some of that behaviour when reprising the American accent which was a mistake. She is a good actor but something in the direction has led her and the others astray. Less shouting and I probably would have enjoyed it more. There’s a way to be loud without coming across as if every line should be shouted and she is more than skilled enough to do so.

Conleth Hill… I don’t know what to say. He plays the role of a put upon family man from a 1950s American sitcom. Burton played the role as a mild mannered yet passively aggressive man of letters while Hill plays the role as… Varys from Game of Thrones (who he plays) so I am a bit concerned he lacks range as I’ve not had the chance to see him in other productions. If you know Nathan Lane and how he performs comedy roles just imagine him in the role and you’re more or less where I was watching this. What are meant to be bitter barbs of a frustrated man come across like catty comments more fitting of a stereotyped gay character. Maybe that’s something they were implying in this production though I feel I’m giving them more credit that they deserve.

Luke Treadaway plays his role overly safe if not quite bland. Imagine a jock from a comedy film or all American young hero from a war film. There you go you know how he came across both aurally and physically. Admittedly the character lends himself to being played that way but it’s too blunt. The liaison between Nick and Martha comes across as so sudden and forced due to how things have been staged that it’s as if you put two cats on heat in a box and watched them writhing into each other. Partially intentional of course but a bit too forced here when the others are in the room still.

Imogen Poots also plays her role somewhat safe if not overly straight with little if any nuance. Someone apparently watched Grease and decided to replicate a Pink Ladies. The role is a foil for the others and is meant to offer some levity to the deeply embittered proceedings but here, where everything is on the verge of spilling into slapstick, it’s hard to make the role have any weight sadly. She is a good actress and makes the most of what she can thus stealing a few scenes but usually gets left in the sidelines. Often quite literally by being offstage for most of acts two and three.

There is, as the preceding documentary insisted, humour in the dialogue but by drawing attention to it with slapstick like delivery undermines the underlying tragedy of the narrative involving a marital breakdown and how the characters feel trapped by social conventions.

Each person is ignoring reality and perpetuating a socially acceptable facade. They do so to appear as successful members of society when in reality each of them is, in their own way, severely damaged. In their overwrought efforts to fit social norms they only exacerbates their problems until confronted with their reality which ultimately breaks them. Be it Martha marrying George because she wanted to remain a part of her feckless father’s world in which she herself could never impress him. George never becoming head of the History department. Nick who married his childhood sweetheart because that’s what everyone expected of him (especially after the phantom pregnancy) or Honey who you could argue remains a cypher to us beyond her existence as Nick’s wife.

The costumes were what you would expect so there is no fault there and the stage design gives an over burdened, claustrophobic, atmosphere helping emphasis the intensity of the character’s interactions with it’s excessive furniture tightly packed into a small area. Some liberties were taken in order to make it more of a chamber drama than other productions might but on the whole you don’t miss anything substantial.

The play is good. This production is not.

If you have never seen a production of this play before then go watch the film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. I never suggest watching the film as, of course, it’s a completely different experience – however in this case I think the real life relationship of Burton and Taylor lent the dialogue exchanges a depth that is hard to replicate though, by their own admission, it took a toll on their relationship and Taylor felt she was playing Martha too much in real life afterwards. I feel the play is better played understated and straight while this version has overplayed the humorous aspects.

Personally I feel the delicate balance required for this play is lost and makes me wonder if, in trying to play up to the humour inherent in Albee’s dialogue, James MacDonald unintentionally played up the humour to differentiate this production from others and in doing so completely undermined the drama of the piece. It discredits the themes of reality versus illusion, as all comedy requires some level by trivialising or satirising of reality in order for us to cope with it’s harshness, and the social expectations both we and society expect of each other which few, if any can live up to.

Playing it for laughs too much means the impact of the reality is muted and because Martha is played over the top we see her more as a caricature not as a tragic figure who feels the need to exaggerate her actions in order to garner a reaction – first from a father who all but ignores her when she doesn’t serve his purpose and then a husband she feels is inattentive to her needs.

Nick is the overachiever being both an athlete and a prodigy who got his masters at 19 years old. He has to get things right at all times because that is what is expected of him. Even in the bed room he is expected to be a stud but ultimately, like all the men in Martha’s life, failing her as a ‘flop’. Honey gets pregnant (albeit it’s proven to be a phantom pregnancy soon after) so of course he will marry her as any good guy would. Failure is not an option.

Contrasting to him is George to whom failure is the only option and like any underachiever he plays the role of satirist playing out fictional narratives over and over to trivialise the dramas of reality. He fails Martha by not having children and by not being able to stand up to nor replace her father as a potent, in both senses, male figure in her life.

Honey… is a cypher. Is Honey even her real name or just a moniker everyone calls her by just like Lady Bird Johnson in real life because that’s the only name anyone around her uses? Do we hear of anything she does exclusive of Nick? Thus she is in the role of the trophy wife, as George was the trophy husband expected to have achieved but ultimately failing too for Martha.

Honey and George mirror each other as ‘failures’ – he as an academic and husband and she as a traditional housewife meant to serve her husband and cause him no trouble. Both fail to bear children in comparison to their alpha partners who, over the nights proceedings, are drawn to each other and have a tryst which ultimately leads them to realise that it’s not an equal they need but a partner who compliments and supports them. Honey, despite drinking, plays the doting wife to her husband obeying him when leaving while George, as Martha mocks at one point, makes her laugh and as the play ends he tries, but fails, to comfort her as she admits she is deeply scared now her bravado has been stripped away and she accepts reality now George has stopped humouring her about their son and no doubt any number of unspoken illusions they have maintained with one another until this point.


This review might be a bit patchy but I keep writing things and not posting them so expect, in the following few weeks, reviews of things that are a bit out of date…