Sometimes I wonder about JK Rowling's mindset. Do you think after she wrote the Harry Potter series, she just felt this overwhelming desire to create a world where everything is just depressing all the time? Because that's precisely what she did with The Casual Vacancy. The novel is well-written, at times difficult to read, at times a bit slow, but overall quite an emotional and wonderful experience, and clearly BBC and HBO agreed as they adapted the The Casual Vacancy miniseries from the best seller. The book and series follows the townspeople of Pagford as they debate over whether to keep intact a local community center — Sweetlove House — that houses programs for underprivileged youth and recovering drug addicts in need of rehabilitation. The series definitely had to take liberties with its source material, but overall in Parts 1 and 2 of the miniseries nothing of great significance was really changed too much. Part 3, however, sees BBC & HBO change the end of The Casual Vacancy.
During an interview about her process adapting the novel, The Casual Vacancy miniseries' writer Sarah Phelps stated that he knew one major thing had to be changed from book to screen: The ending.
"It’s still heartbreaking, but I had to find some kind of redemptive moment at the end of it all, that sense that after the tragedy, someone gets to stand with a slightly straighter back," Phelps told the Radio Times. "Also, what works in a novel doesn’t always work on screen. Nobody wants a finger wagged in their face... If you just go ‘grim, grim, grim’, viewers will simply disengage." So here's what Phelps did.
In the novel, Krystal leaves Robbie unattended as she attempts to get pregnant via Stuart, aka Fats. While unattended, Robbie falls into the river and drowns. Thanks to the guilt of her brother's death, Krystal overdoses on heroine and dies. Fats is left to shoulder all of the guilt.
While that is definitely the major change from novel to screen, there are others. For example Obbo, Terri's drug dealer, never rapes Krystal. Instead, she gets him arrested and then when he is released, he swears revenge on her before she dies. Another change involves Howard's affair with his worker Maureen. In the novel, Howard's affair is revealed to the teens running the online "Ghost of Barry Fairbrother" account by his daughter Patricia. In the miniseries, Patricia doesn't even appear and Andrew is the one who sees Howard and Maureen having sex during the celebration party for Miles' victory in the election. Andrew films the tryst and Howard's wife Shirley watches the video online.
Speaking of Shirley, in the novel she decides to kill her husband only to have her find out that he has had a heart attack. In the miniseries however, she watches the video online while Howard is in the next room. She brings the video into their bedroom where he's resting and the video causes Howard to have a heart attack. Shirley watches him and almost lets him die before calling for an ambulance.
The change in Krystal's death makes sense, and clearly Rowling agreed since she had to have given her blessing for this new ending. But it is interesting to hear that Phelps felt the need to change the ending because she was worried viewers would find it too bleak. Considering the bleakness of so many shows on television right now, I wonder if anyone would really be that opposed to the original ending. But adding just a small sliver of hope in such an overall tragic story does bring some relief that maybe Pagford's darkness can one day subside.
Images: Steffan Hill (2), Screenshot/HBO