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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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.

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…

Wałęsa. Człowiek z nadziei [Walesa, Man of Hope] 2013 film

A 2013 Polish biopic film about the leader of the trade union Solidarity movement (and later president of Poland) Lech Walesa by Andrzej Wajda. The film was selected as the Polish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, but was not nominated. Recently, on 10/01/2017, this film was shown on BBC4.

Synopsis:

Lech Wałęsa, an electrician at the Gdańsk Shipyards, participated in local demonstrations during the 1970s which became violent and left their mark on him after he returned to his daily routine. Ten years later, a new uprising occurred and unexpectedly became a charismatic leader of the Polish dockworkers.

Wałęsa’s leadership role signifies the beginning of a new movement that successfully overcomes the country’s Communist regime, and Wałęsa is pushed into representing the majority of Poland’s population. The Soviet Union authorities, previously regarded as too powerful to be confronted, eventually tolerate existence of the movement a degree. However he is at one point taken from his home in the middle of the night by Soviet officials to an unknown location. On their journey there they pass a road and Lech declares that the people will support him but his escort laugh at this and tell him to open his window and ask the people themselves. On the roadside are some poor farmers who tell him they hate him and he has done nothing to help them. At the interrogation location he is fed and openly shows defiance to the authorities before being eventually released when it’s clear they will get nothing from him. Later we see his wife accepting the Nobel peace prize on his behalf in 1983 as he believed if he left the country he would not be allowed back in.

The film ends on a note of Soviet members saying they will get him and Wałęsa being left unchallenged by opponents. The Polish example of the group Solidarity causes a domino effect throughout Eastern Europe. People in Eastern Germany follow the Polish example, starting demonstrations for freedom which achieves a peaceful reunification of Germany. The Soviet Union then dissolved alongside Yugoslavia.

In the epilogue we are told that while Europe is reshaped, Poland remains stable and peaceful. Yet a huge variety of political parties unfold and Poland is on the brink of becoming as ungovernable as the late Weimar Republic. Wałęsa is subsequently elected as the first president of the new Polish democracy; but, this is followed by feelings of resentment among the Polish people who start to think that Wałęsa is becoming overly privileged. Consequently, the Polish people start to seek out ways to diminish Wałęsa’s significance, until they finally accomplish their goal through uncovering actions from a past period.

Cast:
Robert Więckiewicz as Lech Wałęsa
Agnieszka Grochowska as Danuta Wałęsa
Zbigniew Zamachowski as Nawiślak
Maria Rosaria Omaggio as Oriana Fallaci
Cezary Kosiński as Majchrzak
Mirosław Baka as Klemens Gniech
Iwona Bielska as Ilona, Wałęsa’s neighbour
Maciej Stuhr as Priest
Małgorzata Zajączkowska as Shop assistant
Marcin Hycnar as KOR member Rysiek
Dorota Wellman as Henryka Krzywonos
Adam Woronowicz as Tadeusz Fiszbach
Marcin Perchuć as Instruktor
Ewa Kuryło as Anna Walentynowicz
Arkadiusz Detmer as Malinowski
Mateusz Kościukiewicz as Krzysiek
Piotr Probosz as Mijak
Ewa Kolasińska as Shipyard worker
Michał Czernecki
Remigiusz Jankowski as Shipyard worker
Wojciech Kalarus as Chairman
Maciej Marczewski as KOR member
Maciej Konopiński as SB agent
Marcel Głogowski as Bogdan Wałęsa (aged 8–10)
Wiktor Malinowski as Jarosław Wałęsa (aged 3–5)
Kamil Jaworski as Przemysław Wałęsa (aged 5–7)
Jakub Świderski as Ludwik Prądzyński
Bogusław Kudłek as Bogdan Borusewicz
Michał Meyer as Jerzy Borowczak
Grzegorz Małecki as UB agent
Ewa Konstancja Bułhak as Customs official
Damian Jagusz as soldier

Review:
Be honest – if you read that synopsis and didn’t think ‘this is propaganda’ then your not being critical. This is a view you must take with any biographical works as inevitably there will be a bias present no matter the intent. Either the subject themselves, in the case of autobiographies, is editting the truth in order to better fit their personal self image or intentionally presenting an image they wish to be accepted as true or, in third party works, you are viewing the events through the perception of someone interpreting their subject for better or worse. It reminds me about someone who once told me they only read biographies because they deal in reality while fiction is just make believe. For such people this film will be accepted at face value.

Andrzej Wajda is a freind of Lech Wałęsa and so there is inevitably a bias. This film romanticises events in favour of depicting Lech Walesa as a man of the people who never did anything questionable. It is a love letter to him displaying his defiant, outspoken behaviour and being seen to be rarely challenged successfully in his opposition to the Soviet era establishment. It is highly romanticised not in it’s imagery, as Wadja’s style is distinctly realist and unsensational (barring a few concessions to cinematic flare), but in how we are presented Lech’s personality, showing him often making political statements and being in control of any enviroment he is in – even when he is taken by the secret police from his family to be interrogated.

Many scenes of the film include achive footage in which the faces of the actors are superimposed onto the footage of the person they are playing. Due to the low quality of the footage in compariosn to modern high definition imagery this is done quite effectively although I would wonder if it feels jarring for those familiar with the real life individuals and this footage in its original form. Apart from this we have dramatisations of Lech’s personal life which presumably has been sourced from multiple accounts to create as close to the actual events as possible – or maybe it’s just from Lech’s perspective and therefore favours his interpretation of events.

In the final third of the film, once he is held by the Soviet authorities, all we have is speculation based on his personal accounts of events. My issue with this? In most of this film we have the intergration of modern and contemporary footage (with the actor’s faces placed over those of the actual historical figures they play) which lends itself to making us unable to distinguish which parts are fact and which parts are further along the sliding scale of fact towards we accept as ‘historical fact’.

What I mean by this is we can only base our knowledge on the accounts given by people of the time and any evidence we are able to establish. History is only what we are told happened and which re-enforces the oft cited cliche ‘the victor writes history’ as we are discovering, time and time again, when historians go back to events long ago and uncover new evidence that the previously accepted ‘truth’ is not what actually happened but was a biased interpretations of events from the perspective of one side.

Why note this distinction between fact and historical fact? This film is doing its best to establish Wałęsa’s legacy as an unquestionably noble figure who did no wrong in his lifetime to achieve his goals and yet there is a challenge to such a perception of him nowadays. Recently Wałęsa has faced accussations of colluding with the Soviet government which he vehemently denies despite growing evidence to the contrary. In the closing minutes of the film we see his interrorgaters comment, to almost cartoonish effect, they will ‘get him later’. This moment works to make the audience also refute any later accusations of collusion they will hear including those currently being discussed in light of new evidence. After all who do we believe – the Soviet authorities who are well known to have used certain methods and obscured the reality of events often or this idealised man of the people?

Further to the cartoonishly villainous declaration of revenge we are given a brief summary, via text on the screen, relaying what occurred after the events depicted. One of these asserts that because of Wałęsa’s actions, and the rise of the Solidarity group, Poland led other Eastern Bloc nations towards rebelling against Soviet control and thus were key in the fall of the Berlin Wall.

This film presented an oversimplification of historical events regarding the downfall of the Soviet Union in it’s closing moments by suggesting Wałęsa’s actions, singlehandedly, began the sequence of events that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. There were a great many other world events and internal problems within the Soviet union which led to its downfall so this film, as I have already mentioned, acts as propaganda attempting to secure the legacy of Wałęsa as one of the great historical figures in the history not just of Poland, which has been so hard fought for throughout the centuries by its citizens, but of the world.

He comes across as a historical figure not a man in this film. An image not a living person similar to how canonised saints are depicted. We have seen this time and time again in biopics which cherrypick what is depicted, how it is depicted and perhaps this is why I tend to avoid watching them because ultimately what we are watching is personality propaganda and not a fair account of the individual’s life. Rarely are such films a fair representation of what actually occurred let alone the unblemished, and sometimes unpalatable, truth. Often they instead iconise their subject either as hero or villain.

A caricature who is defined as representing some noble cause and whose example (of their mythos, not their reality) we should follow, is presented to the audience and we are asked to accept it blindly. There are too many examples of biopics being more fiction than fact but that is something to discuss another day. What is safe to say is that the actions of characters in the film must fit the narrative even if it warps the character of the real life person. Examples I can give off the top of my head are First Officer William Murdoch’s depiction in the 1997 film Titanic and of Vivian Liberto Cash in 2005’s Walk The Line both of whom were depicted negatively to enhance the focus narrative without thought to real world events.

Secondary to depictions of Wałęsa are those of the Italian reporter Oriana Fallaci, who is interviewing him as part of the film’s framing device. She is also somewhat of a caricature of the real life person and the choice for her to be used is itself indicative of Wadja’s intentions. Here she is depicted as the classic image all journalists wish to be seen as. Partisan yet invested. Distant yet intimate with their subject. Taking a stand against perceived injustices in the world yet never personally being involved (or indeed effected by it save, as journalist’s often do to create repore in hopes of exposing weakness in their subject, to express a few half hearted suggestions of sympathy – but never empathy). To be objective though they edit what they write and thus can never truly ignore their own experiences in life thus fostering an image which often overshadows the subject they cover. A journalist’s journalist.

The real life Fallaci often came into conflict with Muslims regarding her outspoken criticism of communities both in the East and West while she maintained an aloof air of superiority over them both. During her 1972 interview with Henry Kissinger, Kissinger stated that the Vietnam War was a “useless war” and compared himself to “the cowboy who leads the wagon train by riding ahead alone on his horse”. Kissinger later claimed that it was “the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press”. In 1973, she interviewed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. She later stated, “He considers women simply as graceful ornaments, incapable of thinking like a man, and then strives to give them complete equality of rights and duties”.

It is hard to suggest that this image isn’t based on one Oriana herself made every effort to enforce during her life through her actions, often intended to incite reaction, and not just Wadja trying to lend further credence to his biopic by using a respected real life journalist in the framing device. She, like any others, was more a journalist seeking glory and building her reputation through conflict than making a difference in the world through her work and reporting things people do not want to accept as reality. Despite the heavily doctored image she seemed to wish to portray of herself fault always lay outside the individual as was the case when she blamed her lung cancer on her stay in Kuwait in 1991 after Saddam Hussein had ordered troops to burn hundreds of oil well alone and not that she had been, by choice, a lifelong heavy smoker. And in this film the fault lay exclusively with the Soviets never with how people did not rise up and challenge them before Wałęsa ascension to, what this film is mythologising as, a figurehead.

Summary:
On many aspects of the film I can find no fault. The acting is impactful, the cinematography up to the standard you would expect of a world class director such as Andrzej Wajda (who sadly passed away 9 October 2016) and it really has the sense, if not the most accurate depiction, of the 1980s in Poland. It is solidly built but the message it wishes to express seems, as with any biographical work, to have a desire to frame events in a certain light and omit anything unseemly in order to create a streamlined mythological narrative about its subject – to create an icon rather than relate a flawed, but inspirational, subject.

My greatest critcism is that Andrzej Wajda considered Lech a personal friend and I feel that this caused him to not cast a critical eye upon his subject. This has led, in this love letter of a film to his freind, to the embellishment of a historical figure and securing of his legacy. It deminishes the moments of true opposition faced in order to secure the heroic, incontestable, historical mythos of Wałęsa. The reason people watch a biopic or read an (auto)biography is to see the person behind the facade but sadly, as is often the case, all we get is a re-enforcement of what was already presented to us elsewhere. If you want an introduction to the life and times of Wałęsa then this is good enough as a biased crib notes like starting point but don’t expect any insight into him or how the Soviet era effected Poland beyond trade union strikes.

If you are interested in the works of Andrzej Wajda, or depictions of Poland under Communist rule, I strongly recommend you go watch Wadja’s Man of Marble (Polish: Człowiek z marmuru) or its sequel Man of Iron (Polish: Człowiek z żelaza) which depict fictionalised characters’ experiences covering the events of the Solidarity movement. In these Wajda is less sentimental about his subject and can better present the moral ‘truth’ of events without concern for offending a friend as has sadly occurred with this biopic made far later in his career.

No Man’s Land by Harold Pinter

The performance I attended was held on Saturday 3 September 2016 at The New Theatre, Cardiff.

No Man’s Land is an absurdist play by Harold Pinter written in 1974 and first produced and published in 1975. Its original production was at the Old Vic Theatre in London by the National Theatre on 23 April 1975, and it later transferred to Wyndhams Theatre, July 1975 – January 1976, the Lyttelton Theatre April– – May 1976, and New York October – –December, returning to the Lyttelton, January – –February 1977.

Setting

“A large room in a house in North West London” on a summer night and the following morning.”
Hirst is an alcoholic upper-class literature who lives in a grand house presumed to be in Hampstead, with Foster and Briggs, respectively his purported amanuensis and man servant (or apparent bodyguard), who may be lovers. Spooner, a “failed, down-at-heel poet” whom Hirst has “picked up in a Hampstead pub” and invited home for a drink, becomes Hirst’s house guest for the night; claiming to be a fellow poet, through a contest of at least-partly fantastic reminiscences, he appears to have known Hirst at university and to have shared mutual male and female acquaintances and relationships. The four characters are named after cricket players.

Cast

Patrick Stewart as Hirst, a man in his sixties
Ian McKellen as Spooner, a man in his sixties
Damien Molony as Foster, a man in his thirties
Owen Teale as Briggs, a man in his forties
Following their hit run on Broadway, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart return to the UK stage in Sean Mathias’ acclaimed production of No Man’s Land, one of the most brilliantly entertaining plays by Nobel Prize laureate Harold Pinter.

DSC_0052zzzzzzz

Plot
“One summer’s evening, two ageing writers, Hirst and Spooner, meet in a Hampstead pub and continue their drinking into the night at Hirst’s stately house nearby. As the pair become increasingly inebriated, and their stories increasingly unbelievable, the lively conversation soon turns into a revealing power game, further complicated by the return home of two sinister younger men.”

Act 1

A man in his sixties named Hirst begins a night of heavy drinking (mainly Scotch) in his drawing room with an anonymous peer who he only just met at a pub. Hirst’s overly talkative guest, calling himself a poet, long-windedly explains how he is penetratingly perceptive, until he finally introduces himself as “Spooner”. As the men are becoming more intoxicated, Hirst suddenly rises and throws his glass, while Spooner abruptly taunts Hirst about his masculinity and wife. Hirst merely comments “No man’s land…does Not move…or Change…or Grow old…remains…forever…icy…silent”, Before collapsing twice and finally crawling out of the room.

A young man enters and suspiciously questions Spooner, who now becomes relatively silent, about his identity. The younger man introduces himself as John “Jack” Foster before the entrance of a fourth man, Briggs, who is in his forties and who also unsuccessfully questions Spooner and then bickers with Foster.

At last, Hirst re-enters, having slept, and struggles to remember a recent dream. Foster and Briggs have also started drinking, and they refill the older men’s glasses. Hirst mentions an album of photographs he keeps, commenting on the appearances of the people in the album. He does not appear to fully remember Spooner’s identity, insisting that his true friends are kept safely in the album. He begins drinking straight from the bottle, mutters incoherent statements, and continues to ponder his dream—involving someone drowning—when Spooner abruptly says that he was the one drowning in Hirst’s dream. Hirst drunkenly collapses and Spooner now rushes in to Hirst’s aid, brushing away the two younger men and claiming to be Hirst’s true friend. The younger pair becomes defensive and accusatory, asserting their obligation to protect Hirst against “men of evil”. Foster openly criticises his own past, as well as Hirst’s impulsiveness and alcoholism. It gradually becomes apparent that Foster is Hirst’s apprentice and housekeeper, and Briggs is Hirst’s personal servant. All exit except for Spooner and Foster, the latter of who says, “Listen. You know what it’s like when you’re in a room with the light on and then suddenly the light goes out? I’ll show you. It’s like this”. He flicks off the lights, causing a blackout.

Act 2

The next morning, Spooner, alone, stands from his chair and attempts to leave, but the door is locked. Briggs soon enters to deliver Spooner food and champagne, rambling on about how he met Foster and ignoring Spooner’s desire to know why the door was locked. Spooner thinks of a quick excuse to leave; however, when Briggs mentions that both Foster and Hirst are poets, Spooner show vague recognition of this fact.

Hirst himself bursts in and is delighted to see Spooner, whom he oddly mistakes for (or pretends) is an old friend. He speaks as though the two were Oxbridge classmates in the 1930s, which Spooner finally plays along with. Hirst and Spooner then bizarrely discuss scandalous romantic encounters they both had with the same women, leading to a series of increasingly questionable reminiscences, until finally Hirst is accused of having had an affair with Spooner’s own wife. All the while, Hirst refers to Briggs by a variety of inconsistent names and then launches into a rant about once-known faces in his photo album.

Spooner says that Foster, who now reappears, should have pursued his dream of being a poet, instead of working for Hirst. Spooner shows great interest in seeing Hirst’s photo album, but both Briggs and Foster discourage this. All four are now drinking champagne, and Foster, for his own pride and dignity’s sake, abruptly asserts that he desired to work in this house of his own choice, where he feels privileged to serve as famous a writer as Hirst. Suddenly, Spooner asks desperately that Hirst consider hiring him as well, verbosely praising his own work ethic and other virtues. After all this, Hirst merely replies “Let’s change the subject for the last time”. And after a pause worriedly asks “What have I said?” Foster explains definitively that Hirst’s statement means that he (Hirst) will never be able to change the subject ever again. Hirst thinks back to his youth, when he mistakenly thought he saw a drowned body in a lake. Spooner now comments, “No. You are in no man’s land. Which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, but which remains forever, icy and silent.” Hirst responds “I’ll drink to that!” and the lights fade slowly to black.

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Production Design and Costume:

The safety curtain (well not the safety one but the scene setting one I’ve forgotten the name of) had imagery reminiscent of a dark, foreboding, forest and tattered edging so it didn’t meet the stage floor uniformally. Somehow due to the 2 or maybe three thin layers of gauze it had a 3D like effect.

no mans land stage layout.png

The single room setting of the performance has a semi-circular design, as if we were in the keep of a castle except the walls have a square glass brick effect (which seemed to be popular a few years ago or at least my local cinema and bingo hall use a similar effect) due tinged a dark turquoise. The floor has pale pine wooden slats following the semi circular design and a mat/rug with fleur de leis on it coloured deep turquoise and paler turquoise respectively. This carpeting is slightly off centre from the circular pattern of the floorboards as if to non-verbally indicate to the audience that things are not quite as simple and straight forward as they initially appear. To the rear, of centre to the left, is a window hidden behind heavy, dusty it seems, curtains obscuring any natural light entering the room despite the possibility of Hirst going out for his daily walk (which he refuses as it isn’t very light outside when he looks).

On the right is the single door on and off stage. A plain, varnished, wooden door. To the rear a well stocked bar with a cupboard in the bench hiding even more bottles. A few glasses are used during the performance as Hirst always needs another drink and often so do the others.

The room is sparsely furnitured. To either side are free standing lamps, the right of which has a small table with it. Three chairs populate the room. Two are simple wooden ones but the third, off centre to the left, is the most important. It is Hirst’s green Chesterfield chair which only he ever sits in as the master of the house. Next to it is a small side table which he places his whiskey glass upon. A trolley, with fold out wings and covered in a white sheet to make it a table, is used for Spooner’s breakfast at the start of the second half. It is wheeled in and abruptly out by Briggs.

Costume wise Hirst wears a navy three piece suit but for most of the first half this is replaced by a striped night gown. Spooner wears a dull great suit and in the second half for a brief time has on his Mac in readiness to leave. Foster and Briggs wear clothes in the style of the 1970s i.e. brown boots, leather jackets and bellbottom trousers. In the second half, with their roles as house staff revealed, Briggs wears a blue three piece suit, later discarding the jacket with his sleeves rolled up, and Foster reappears in the last few scenes in a pastel suit. In contrast to the Americanised version I have to immediately note Stewart didn’t have a wig during the performance I saw and I don’t think McKellen had a ponytail (and obviously the roles of Foster and Briggs were different actors).

Review:
The venue was sold out and it was the final night. As is often the case here when its sold out there was barely any room to move at the entrance as they put the programme selling stall at the bottom of the stairs which start right by the left side of the entrance doors. Across the small entrance way is the box office with one, maybe two, people able to serve through the small windows. Of course people queue here too and I haven’t accounted for the people standing around chatting idly having gotten themselves drinks from the bar. Saying that once you got up stairs there was more room, not much seating but that is to be expected due to the limited space.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the boxes were used for their original purpose of ‘being seen to be seen at the theatre’ thought they are renowned for their poor view of the stage. As it is they probably worked out cheaper than some of the stall seats for tonight’s performance.

The New Theatre used to be the premier location for stage plays in Cardiff but after the establishment of the Wales Millennium Centre it was quickly usurped and although still respectable it never regained this position. It’s heyday, during my life time, was probably around 1996 when Anthony Hopkins, fresh from his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter, directed his stage adaptation of Uncle Vanya transposing Chekov’s Uncle Vanya to a turn-of-the-century Welsh setting, emphasising the hardships of Welsh industrial life in the slate quarries and Welsh-English turmoil. Aside from the New Theatre and WMC Chapter Arts Centre, the Sherman Theatre and recently the Gates Art Centre have grown in prominence as venues for the arts in Cardiff.

The play itself I enjoyed but I think there is an important caveat to this: I knew what the meta-narrative of the play was regarding Pinter’s mindset when he wrote it and what it represented to him. What we see portrayed on the stage is not literal. Metaphor is heavily used in this play and the audience are hinted towards this reading when Spooner proclaims his joy at its use by Hirst in the first act.

Hirst is an old man at the end of his life consumed by memories which he cannot recollect with any accuracy. He often talks of a photo album he has and the faces in it yet he himself doesn’t recognise Spooner at the start and indeed we as an audience must ask if, when he does acknowledge him as a friend from his youth, if the conversation they are having is actually between old acquaintances or if Spooner is playing along and making up stuff which Hirst, being a braggard, pretends to remember but doesn’t. In fact we could ask if any of the characters, apart from Hirst, even do exist at all or perhaps speculate that they represent different aspects of himself – Foster as his young brash self who sees opportunities in the future and is very cocky; Briggs as his masculine side aggressive, objective and arrogant; Spooner as his poetic aspect and view of old age reflecting how, now at the end of his days, he thinks back to his youth but cannot recall it with accuracy and wants to ignore, if not outright dismiss, his old age from himself and instead ‘remembers’ someone drowning but can’t recall their face. Perhaps we take this as it is him seeing himself drowning metaphorically in life unable to escape from himself.

Of course there are many ways to read this play and that is, for the most part, intentional. It is however also its weakness as you must have some knowledge of Pinter, or at least writers of his generation, and how the use of language is multilayered with more than a single understanding. Waiting For Godot, by Samuel Beckett, (premiered on 5 January 1953 in the Théâtre de Babylone, Paris) is perhaps the greatest example of this use of dialogue. Symbolism and metaphor are replete throughout the work and for an audience not prepared for this they may declare it pretentious as they are unprepared. If you have not watched a work like this before I think it wise to watch the film version of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (first staged in 1966 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe) to see if this sort of play is to your liking. In fact it would be hard to deny the influence Beckett and Stoppard must have had on Pinter when you make comparisons.

It would be easy to see this play as a response to Waiting For Godot. There are parallels between Vladimir and Hirst contrasting that of Estragon and Spooner but in both pairs certain aspects are exchanged. Beckett, in a correspondence reflects that “Estragon is inert and Vladimir restless.” In a twist we see Hirst, who of the pair is the slightly better off as Vladimir is, is mostly sitting for much of the first act despite how spry he is in the second, and in contrast Spooner, a poet (just as Estragon should have been Vladimir comments) is very spry unlike Estragon who is mostly seen to be sitting or reclining. In Waitng For Godot it is Vladimir who is constantly reminding Estragon but here Spooner reminds Hirst. In the first stage production of Waiting For Godot, which Beckett oversaw, both are “more shabby-genteel than ragged…Vladimir At least is capable of being scandalised…on A matter of etiquette when Estragon begs for chicken bones or money.” In No Man’s Land Hirst is scandalised by Spooner’s accusations of youthful infidelity and, while eating his breakfast, Spooner uses the serviette as a bib instead of placing it on his lap (and indeed when putting his coat on forgets to remove it). There are many facets which could be explored in analysing the intertextuality of the pieces but that should be left for another time and place.

This is not a play of events but of moods. It is a dialogue about themes which often haunted Pinter throughout his career – most obviously those of memory and death. I highly recommend it but this is one of those occasions where you are better off knowing what happens so you can focus on the nuances of the actor’s performances. If I had a criticism of the one I attended it was the audience not knowing the tone. Some laughed at any point that might be potentially comedic, for example when Hirst collapses and then crawls out of the room, but these scenes could also be played very seriously (which I believe was the intent this night) so it seemed there was a dissonance between performance and audience on the night. Of course we must reflect that the line between a tragedy and comedy is a fine line. In tragedy we identify with them and their inability to prevent the course of events but in comedy we anticipate it and take joy in their suffering. I feel the play could easily be played to either extreme. Certainly McKellen was playing to the comedic angle while Stewart played a very serious figure and somehow, as hard as it might be to believe, they did not gel on stage although this may have been intentional due to the characters’ contrasting natures. As for Molony as Foster he played his role with much energy and easily interacted with McKellen who he has directed in other plays a number of times now. Teale as Briggs was suitably intimidating and stern. He did however remind me of Danny Dyer and, unsurprisingly, I discovered that Dyer had performed this role a few years ago in another production which lead me to question if Teale was imitating Dyer or if Dyer, by some fluke of nature, had discovered a role all but made for him he fit it so perfectly.

It was an excellent performance in every respect but the audience seemed to be at odds with the intended tone at times.

Outside the stage doors I didn’t see the autograph hunters who are always present at these things. There was an A4 printed sign in the stage door saying the cast would only be signing things to do with the production (i.e. Don’t you dare come here with things relating to Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, X-Men, Stella, etc). After the show the theatre manager, who for some reason was wearing a full white tie dinner suit, said no one could take selfies and you probably wouldn’t even get an autograph. Ian McKellen to his credit tried to sign as many autographs as possible as did Damien Molony and Owen Teale. Unfortunately Patrick Stewart had to rush off as he was about to miss his train though he did try to sign some brochures before leaving.

In summary: Go and see it as it is a classic of modern theatre but know what you are getting into regarding Pinter’s intent. Don’t just go because there are recognisable names otherwise you will be lost when you realise it isn’t going to be as straight forward as something you watch on television or in the cinema.



Москва слезам не верит / Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears (1980)

Москва слезам не верит a.k.a Moscow Doesn’t Believe In Tears
Russian Cinema Council Collection

Quoting the DVD case blurb [sic]: “An Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film. This is a melodrama about life stories of three girls. Three friends Antonina, Liudmila and Yekaterina, come to Moscow in search of their dreams. Sharing a hostel room, the work and have fun together. Antonina soon marries a good man and settles down to raise a family. For Liudmila, Moscow is a sort of lottery, in which you have to pick a lucky ticket. She attempts to conquer this big city, but ends up a loser. The life of the third girl, Yekatrerina, is a contemporary Cinderella story. She had her share of disappointments, but did not despair. In twenty years she built up a career and became director of a big enterprise. A single parent of a daughter, she finally meets the right man and, after long and bitter years of loneliness, finds true happiness…”

So, in case you missed the awkward grammar, I am watching the official international release of the film from Russia and has subtitled done by a native Russian but English as second language speaker. There are one or two times during my copy where the subtitles are awkward. For example there’s one moment where a character remarks ‘We are like personages in a drama’ where the word ‘character’ would be more correct.I will use the translation provided by the DVD so some names like Lyudmila will be appear as Liudmila instead. Also although I refer to Katerina as Yekatrina this is apparently only present on the DVD case. All the signs suggest there seems to have been no proof reading or quality control during the DVD’s production sadly and I am sure it was rectified for later editions.

The film is set in two time periods: 1958, in the middle of the Khrushchev thaw,and 1979, in the middle of the era of stagnation. My DVD copy had two separate disks separating these time periods into two parts. I don’t know why but assume it is because it is a 1999 edition and dual layered discs were not yet commonly used at that point. It is a good breaking point but I don’t think the film had an intermission between these two parts originally.

The three main women represent the 3 stereotypes of women in Soviet Russia.

Antonina is the traditional girl – she marries early on into a secure home life to a husband who is deemed ‘nice by boring’ and has 3 sons.

Liudmila the ‘tart with a heart’ – she dates multiple men gambling on there being better prospects as long as you are willing to take a risk. Liudmila initially seems to have ‘won’ by marrying a sportsman but it is short lived as he is soon retired and borrowing money from her 7 years after their divorce – presumably with no children produced and her working in a dry cleaners looking for the next ‘win’.

Yekaterina is what society would like to believe in – A self sufficient, hard working and educated person who is a productive, successful, citizen overcoming her circumstances. A single mother who overcame difficulties through focusing on her studies in youth, worked hard for a very senior position in her company and was rewarded by the universe with a man who fulfils her. Arguably she is the most recognisable to western audiences as she represents the viewer’s wish fulfilment, common in films worldwide, though it should be noted the film, as part of this wish fulfilment, glosses over the day to day hardships she faced in those intervening 20 years during the time skip which were necessary for her to arrive at the position she is in during the second part.

Perhaps it is interesting to compare them with the men they end up with.

Antonina marries Nikolai early on and settles into a successful, if dull, marriage producing three sons. As Tolstoy said ‘All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’. They play little influence in events save to be a safe haven for Lyudmila, who has no one else reliable in her life, and Katerina who has been so career focused she has forsaken all else it seems initially.

Liudmila, ever the hegemonist flirt, marries Sergei Gurin who is a rising sports star believing, at the end of the first part, herself to have hit the jackpot she so often speaks of. However in the second half we find her living alone and he comes begging her to loan him more money – even going as far as becoming physical with her out of desperation. When he is at bars he is recognised and never has to buy his own drink but is left unfulfilled with the hope of becoming a coach now his own career is over. Liudmila continues to flirt with any prospective men – even becoming jealous of a general’s wife who she believes has ‘won the lottery’. She otherwise seems to live vicariously through Antonina, who has succeeded in building a family, and Katerina who has a successful career. This leaves her in the role of acting as a sort of eccentric ‘larger than life’ aunt to the children or at worst a warning to Alexandra of what she will become if she doesn’t begin to learn from her mother’s example of taking responsibility and working hard but continues to rely on others and luck.

Katerina has a relationship with Rodion, a TV camera man (often to be found reiterating his view that TV will replace cinema, theatre, books and newspapers) who after a brief tryst abandons her to raise their daughter by herself. He even has his mother go visit Katerina to tell her to stop harassing him to take responsibility (although it was Liudmila calling to help her friend who had resigned herself to fate). Years later he is sent to interview a senior executive and doesn’t recognise Katerina initially. He then meets with her wanting to see Alexandra but Katerina refuses telling him she has done well enough without him in her life. Towards the end he arrives, unannounced, to Katerina’s apartment and, in anger, she tells Alexandra he is her father. I actually found this story thread didn’t get resolved by the end so, with how Alexandra interacts with Gosha, it is no doubt implied she rejects Rodion. At the start of the second half she is also involved with a married man who is cowardly and so she abandons him soon after we rejoin her. The most important of her partners though is Gosha who she meets by chance on a train going home after visiting Antonina’s dacha. He is a staunchly traditional man but, unaware of Katerina’s successful career, begins a relationship with her often expounding how it is a man’s place to be head of the household. Needless to say he finds out he will not be the highest earner in the house and immediately takes flight, more so over having been lied to than a bruised ego (although it is easy to argue either way considering cultural differences). There is certainly a middle aged Cinderella aspect to her storyline during the second half of the film and how she serendipitously encounters him on the train home after the arranged meetings club fails to find her a match suiting her expectations.

In fact Alexandra could be said to serve as a sort of epilogue to the accumulated experiences of the central female characters. Initially when introduced she seems all but a copy of Liudmila by being self indulgent spending her time listening to music and being no where near as active as the older women were at her age. Instead she seems to be relying on others for her pleasures as did Liudmila by dating various young men and using the dorm’s telephone as her number. However we see her develop once Gosha is introduced. She recognises the earnest morality of Gosha who, unlike her mother, engages with her involving her in cooking and other household tasks. When she admits she doesn’t know how to cook, which is very likely with her career orientated mother, he offers to teach her. Thus she is willing to better herself – not relying on improving her prospects by marriage or fortunate but through doing things herself. When he, without a second thought, goes to aid her boyfriend who has been ganged up on by her former paramour she wants her mother to know but he insists there is no need as this is just what a man should do. She begins acknowledging the value in others – he proves he is who he has presented himself as even though some doubt might have been thrown by how many superlative plaudits his friends bestow on him at his birthday (which he invites the unaware Katerina and Alexandra to thinking it no big thing). He is good for her mother and she recognises this in him even if it means she will now be expected to contribute to the home. When Rodion is revealed as her father, having forced his way into her life and upset her mother, we don’t see her reaction in any significance but considering the final scene it may be implied that she sees Gosha as more of a father figure in that he, without want of compensation, does what he can to fulfil the role acting altruistically towards anyone who needs his help. She has learned the value of hard work but, as evidence by her having a boyfriend, society has moved on but some things remain the same through the generations. So the future seems bright – she is still learning but has a strong community of support around her.

Conclusion
It was very good but definitely is a film of its period. The subtitles, done by a Russian had one or two awkward translations – e.g. someone saying ‘we are like personages in a drama’ where we would say ‘characters in a drama’. The way it was filmed was very 70s and films made in Britain had a very similar look from that period. US President Ronald Reagan watched the film several times prior to his meetings with the President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, in order to gain a better understanding of the “Russian soul”. I doubt he did as its such a hard concept to depict but certainly he would have seen its heart and that the world over people have similar hopes and dreams despite differences in language and culture.

I guess I have become used to older films being ‘remastered’ as my copy seemed a bit low quality despite being an official DVD from the Russian Cinema Council… But then it was a 1999 edition so maybe someone has improved the quality, in later released editions, since then as HD quality wasn’t a concern at the time.

What really stands out with the edition I have is the extras. Many of the main actors, the director, the scriptwriter and the composer are interviewed. There is a documentary about Moscow and photo galleries. The film comes with the original Russian dub but also a French and an English one. The subtitles come in Russian, English, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Hebrew, Swedish, Chinese, Arabic and Japanese. Ironically though the back of the DVD states [sic] ‘Not for sale on the territory of the former USSR’ so it obviously is meant for the international not domestic market!

Aleksey Batalov (Алексей Владимирович Баталов) pretty much stole the show in the second half as Gosha. To put it in context his role is a Soviet version of the ‘manic pixie [boyfriend]’ trope as he seems all too perfect in his portrayal although he does have traditional views about being the man of the house. Such views were falling out of favour in their depiction in the west during the time of the film’s release but it has always been an element of wish fulfilment in romantic films that the female protagonist finds a man who can provide for her both emotionally and financially – so traditional values have never really gone out of fashion. The other characters I can easily imagine being in western films with little if any alteration so look out for that Hollywood remake (if one hasn’t already been made)!

This is one of the keystones of Russian cinema and an essential viewing experience for anyone interested in Russia, Soviet cinema or indeed world cinema. (Albeit I will add that this was filmed during more lenient times so those looking for a Stalinist era depiction, as is the common shorthand imagery used in western cinematic depictions *cough*Child44*cough* need to look elsewhere). The story is easy to follow and compelling. There are one or two moments of very brief nudity but it is very naive and a few moments of physical violence but nothing that wouldn’t be shown before the watershed (i.e. it is safe for all to watch). I highly recommend it.

Cast

Vera Alentova – Katerina Tikhomirova
Irina Muravyova – Lyudmila
Aleksey Batalov – Gosha
Raisa Ryazanova – Antonina
Aleksandr Fatyushin – Sergei Gurin
Boris Smorchkov – Nikolai
Viktor Uralsky – Nikolai’s Father
Valentina Ushakova – Nikolai’s Mother
Yuri Vasilyev – Rodion Rachkov
Yevgeniya Khanayeva – Rachkov’s Mother
Liya Akhedzhakova – Olga Pavlovna, Club’s Director
Zoya Fyodorova – Hostel’s Security
Natalya Vavilova – Alexandra
Oleg Tabakov – Vladimir, Katerina’s lover
Vladimir Basov – Anton Kruglov
Cameo appearances:
Andrei Voznesensky
Innokenty Smoktunovsky
Georgi Yumatov
Leonid Kharitonov
Tatyana Konyukhova
Pavel Rudakov and Veniamin Nechaev
Just as in Hollywood you might have someone like Bill Murray play a bit part in one scene as a cameo so you have the same here. I cannot say with authority in which scenes they appear but its safe to say many do so in the sequence where Katerina visits the ‘friendship agency’ in the second half where there is some humour about much older men wanting to be placed in the groups with women far too young for them.

Songs from the film

Bésame mucho


By Sergey Nikitin and Tatyana Nikitina:
Александра (Alexandra)

Диалог у новогодней елки (A dialogue by the New Year’s tree)

By Klavdiya Shulzhenko:
Давай закурим (Davai zakurim / “Lets take a smoke”)


Usually when I review films I go into some depth but I am trying to self edit a bit more nowadays. Hopefully this post is compelling enough though I feel I have left so much out.

I found Star Media on YouTube and it has many interesting Russia films and series on there so I may be watching quite a few of them. Any recommendations of good older films, which they will be more likely to have, are more than welcome 🙂