The opening scenes of the BBC’s bank holiday series based on the Robert Galbraith/ J.K. Rowling novel of the same name show a model in a strangely sterile party environment. Leaving her friend, she poses for the paparazzi before elegantly sashaying back to her stunning, hotel-esq penthouse apartment, where she twirls in a number of glittering dresses before eventually abandoning all these options in favour of a plain white jumper and jeans.
After a confrontational phone call, the viewer watches as she goes to answer the door, the camera following her down the corridor. A few tense moments later and the camera pans out to revel the model’s body, face down in the snow.
This listless start was a sign of what was to come from this hotly anticipated adaptation of Rowling’s first foray in Crime Fiction. Whilst her books were evocative and recreated a gloomy and dingy London, they lacked conviction and were plagued by inconsistencies; specifically, the descriptions of the characters and the way they were shown to behave did not correlate. Strike is often described as being a loner who does not get on well with people, but the novels show him as a man with a keen sense of humour who can converse well and actively seeks out the company of others on a regular basis.
It is this lack of continuity that puts me off the novels, alongside Rowling’s overuse of detective fiction tropes; it is one thing to have a dysfunctional protagonist, but Cormoran Strike, the rock-star’s illegitimate, one-legged, former solider son with the volatile relationship with a wealthy socialite and a camp bed in his office is a step to far. Add this to the inconsistencies between the description and depiction of the characters and the often slightly overworked plots and you have a serious turn-off for readers who aren’t blinded by the spectre of Harry Potter, which looms over the Strike novels like a dementor over a crowd of muggles.
However, as previously mentioned, the novels do have a certain charm when it comes to the use of setting and the brisk pace at which the main characters, Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott go about their business. The TV series, on the other hand, holds none of this appeal. Tom Burke’s Strike has all the wit and charisma of a blocked toilet, with a fairly inconsistent limp and a dry manner of speaking which makes even the vaguely witty, trailer worthy sound bites that comprise his dialogue sound like they’ve been pre-recorded on a machine.
Atmosphere is where this adaptation really lets itself down. There is absolutely no tension whatsoever, and no amount of piano tinkling or deft camera work can make up for that. The uncomfortable characterisation is a real problem, particularly in the scene in which Strike confronts Tony Landry, played by an incredibly wooden Martin Shaw, in a fancy restaurant. The pair exchanges witticisms almost wearily, as if both actors understand that the scene is a complete bust and are just going through the motions.
The world of the victim, supermodel Lula Landry, is neither tawdry nor remotely glamorous, and although her home is certainly stylistically beautiful, it presents no intrigue for the viewer. The show’s creators have offered the watcher none of the usual glimpses into the spectacle that is the fashion world that are evoked so vividly in the novel.
What lets the show down is, ultimately, is its complete lack of tension. There is nothing driving the narrative forward, making this simply a walk through the life of a vaguely dysfunctional PI and his absurdly beautiful assistant. Personally, I am disinterested already, although given the amount of time I have already invested to reading the books, I will probably persevere with Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling for at least one more episode.