The Casual Vacancy 4 is an adaptation of a J.K. Rowling novel and is set in the fictional town of Pagford, in the suburban West Country.
In a cast filled with famous faces, Parish council member Barry Fairbrother (Rory Kinnear) is preparing for his wedding anniversary to Mary (Emily Bevan), but he looks in the bathroom mirror, while brushing his teeth, seeing the mirror now cracked and a skeleton figure within, which quickly disappears as he faints and collapses to the floor. Something spooky this way comes?
Well, before it goes a bit ‘Remember Me‘, he comes round and in this close-knit community, he’s called to pick up his friend Terri (Keeley Forsyth) from the police station after she’s locked up in prison overnight, Given the state this junkie is in, it’s no surprise she ended up in there. At the local council meeting, Chairman and pie shop owner Howard Mollison (Michael Gambon) wants to turn Sweetlove House, a place of much discussion – except when he’s keeping it off the agenda – into a spa, much to Barry’s objection.
Amongst this village where you’d struggle to find a nice person, the lush surroundings do their best to hide the nasty behaviours, often failing as they’re depicted to us in turn as each one is revealed. Barry only seems to be the nicest person there, so it’s a shame when he has another episode, collapses in the street, whilst out with Mary, pukes up and then dies. His untimely death means that, on the Parish council, there is a “casual vacancy”, and until that’s filled, Howard moans that they’re not quorate, and urges his wimpy son Miles (Rufus Jones) to put his hat in the ring, much to Miles’ annoyance as he moans himself about the fact he’s got enough to do already.
Others who eventually do the same, albeit with more enthusiasm, are Barry’s half brother Simon Price (Richard Glover), earlier seen smashings up his son Andrew’s bike, although that’s nothing compared to the way he rules the household with an iron fist. He’s such a nasty piece of work, he even gives a nasty pinch to Barry’s corpse while it’s fresh on the slab in the morgue; and deputy headmaster Colin Wall (Simon McBurney), who is upset at Barry’s passing, but not enough to want to fill his shoes, it seems.
Other characters include Terri’s daughter, Krystal (Abigail Lawrie), a schoolgirl who thinks nothing of practically dressing like a prostitute on the last day of term, and who later calls the police to report Obbo (Sam Redford) for dumping his stolen 50″ TVs in their house, and her younger brother’s bedroom door reads the charming words “Don’t Even Fuckin’ Try!” – something the social worker; Miles’ wife Samantha (Keeley Hawes), who runs “Samantha’s Boudoir” – a shop full of sexy lingerie, Colin and Tess’ (Monica Dolan) son, Fats (Brian Vernel) is sniffing round classmate Gaia (Simona Brown), without seemingly getting anywhere.
And it ends with the ghost of Barry Faithbrother leaving a new post online, amongst the tributes to him, saying how everyone in Pagford has skeletons in the closet, making it out like he’s about to reveal them all. Overall, it feels like the whole of the first episode was pre-amble with the big stuff still to come, but when it’s only a three-parter, you need to be thrown a few bones in the opener to whet your appetite and retain your viewing. I’m not one for books, really, so I rely on the TV/movie versions to deliver the goods.
There’s an obsession with sex and wanking thrown into the script, but with no rumpy pumpy shown on screen. There’s arty shots of a kettle boiling, while a bee dies slowly on the windowsill, which look like they’re thrown in to make you wonder where the story went. And, to add to the arty look, it’s shot in a ratio of 2.35:1 by director Jonny Campbell (In The Flesh, Doctor Who), and I can see they did it to make it look dark in tone and all cnematic but I don’t think it always works for TV drama when you can open up to a 16:9 ratio. 2.35:1 is something best left to action films, and it’s weird when you even see it used in comedies.
The Casual Vacancy continues next Sunday at 9pm on BBC1, but given how self-obsessed all the characters were, and how bored I was getting – to the point where the only thing I really remember is that Doctor’s DCI Driver (Elizabeth Rider) was playing the role of lead social worker Maggie, I think I shall be vacating the chance to watch it next week.
Director: Jonny Campbell
Producer: Ruth Kenley-Letts
Screenplay: Sarah Phelps (based on the novel by J.K. Rowling)
Howard Mollison: Michael Gambon
Samantha Mollison: Keeley Hawes
Miles Mollison: Rufus Jones
Barry Fairbrother: Rory Kinnear
Shirley Mollison: Julia McKenzie
Arf Price: Joe Hurst
Paul Price: Sonny Ashbourne Serkis
Simon Price: Richard Glover
Ruth Price: Marie Critchley
Vikram Jawanda: Silas Carson
Mary Fairbrother: Emily Bevan
Colin Wall: Simon McBurney
Tess Wall: Monica Dolan
Fats Wall: Brian Vernel
Terri Weedon: Keeley Forsyth
Krystal Weedon: Abigail Lawrie
Obbo: Sam Redford
Parminder Jawanda: Lolita Chakrabarti
Sukhvinder Jarwanda: Ria Choony
Betty: Menna Trussler
Bill: Vass Anderson
Aubrey Sweetlove: Julian Wadham
Julia Sweetlove: Emilia Fox
Copper: Alex Lowe
Young Doctor: Sope Dirisu
Kaye Bawden: Michele Austin
Gaia Bawden: Simona Brown
Mr Meacher: Jacob Krichefski
Mo: Hettie Baynes Russell
Robbie Weedon: Bryce Sanders
Maggie: Elizabeth Rider
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.