Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gone Postal

Going Postal, the third of Sky's adaptations of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels (recently released on DVD), is the first that really seems to work quite right. The first two (Hogfather and The Colour of Magic) had their virtues, but the problem with genre fantasy on screen is that it's hard to avoid it looking silly, in a bad-'80s-Conan-clone sort of way - all those robes and swords and medieval towns are hard to make convincing, and "It's meant to be a joke!" doesn't save things the way it does on the page. With a recent Discworld novel like this one, however, the style of the setting has moved forward through history very significantly, and the production design could go for something much more Victorian than cod-medieval - which looks fine, even cool, without being unduly distracting. This in turn means that, for example, the cast could be as ludicrously good as in the earlier movies, while looking like a bunch of good actors who've been cast for their suitability for the roles, rather than a bunch of famous thesps doing panto. They were clearly able to get their heads around their lines and deliver them with some conviction, rather than seeming to wonder what they were doing here.

The two leads - Richard Coyle as Moist von Lipwig and Claire Foy as Adora Belle Dearheart - weren't the most famous of these people, of course (that would probably be Charles Dance, completely walking it with casual ease as the Patrician), but both managed very well indeed. Special mention, though, has to go to the perfectly chosen Tamsin Greig as Sacharissa Cripslock - a piece of casting that makes me dream of a prequel production of The Truth, just to see Greig playing  Sacharissa as a developing character rather than a cameo/plot device.

Of course, compressing a full novel into three hours of film requires a certain amount of brutal surgery, which was mostly executed quite well here, leaving a film that worked on its own terms - although the psychic power of the undelivered letters ended up seeming less subtle, and the big emotional thrust of the book - Moist's redemption and discovery of his own conscience - certainly became a much cruder process, being largely forced on him by visions inflicted by the letters (rather nicely depicted in the form of black-and-white silent movies, but still). Likewise, Adora Belle seemed slightly softened - she was still a dangerous character, but her hardness was depicted entirely as a reaction to family tragedy; likewise, perhaps inevitably these days, her cigarette addiction was shown as coming from the same source and as something she really needs to discard, rather than being an integral feature of her character which Moist's emerging masochistic side could find attractive. Less crucially, but rather sadly perhaps, there was no room for Anghammarad the Golem, while Moist's visit to Unseen University was gone, its expository role being filled by a visit from Archchancellor Ridcully - giving us the joy of Timothy West in that particular role, but should the Archchancellor show up in the Post Office at the beck and call of a golem?

But that's quibbling - and a really successful screen adaptation of a Discworld novel is too good a thing to deserve excessive quibbles. If Sky are going to continue doing these adaptations once a year, I hope that this one sets a pattern.

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