I confess that I’d not read the book before I watched this series. I think I enjoyed it more precisely because I did not know how it ended. It was superb. I have read the book since and I actually prefer the television adaptation, sorry Mr. Banks! So, why is this short series so good? The things that stand out for me are the script, casting and cinematography.
In parts the humour is so dark you could be forgiven for thinking you have been sucked into a black hole: exploding dead grandmothers, drunk fathers falling off church steeples and an uncle who begins his own religious sect all appeal to my darker side. However, the humour is definitely curtailed by some well constructed, serious revelations. These come quite suddenly and without warning. It’s this sense of the unexpected that creates some of the best moments. May be I’m too naïve but I was certainly not expecting Lachlan’s eye to be lost in such a violent manner or aunt Fiona to expire in such circumstances. For once, the BBC developed a series that holds some genuine surprises. All this is done through skilfully using flashbacks in what is a complex narrative structure. Despite this complexity, the audience is able to establish some form of link with the characters, whatever period of time it is; whether it’s the family picnic, the tour around the glass factory or one of the numerous funerals.
Another thing I liked about his series was the way the audience goes on the journey with Prentice as he sets out to discover the truth about his uncle Rory. My imagination began to go on over-load, as did Prentices’. The resolution is definitely original. It kept me thinking right until the very end.
Part of this empathy with the central character is because Prentice is played so well by Joseph McFadden. His apparent vulnerability throughout the whole thing is spot on. The supporting cast, including Bill Paterson, Peter Capaldi and Stella Gonet, is outstanding. It’s a real line up of who’s who in Scottish acting!
And finally, the cinematography. Well, I guess it speaks for itself really. I’m a city girl and it’s all too easy to forget that some parts of the UK are actually still quite beautiful. It also reminds me that I really should go and see the west coast of Scotland at some point this lifetime.
I think this series offers far more than the average television drama. If you’ve read the book first, you could hate what they’ve cut out. However, if you’ve watched the series before you’ve read the book, you’ll probably be relieved at the edits they’ve made. If you’ve done neither yet, my question is why on earth not?