An ambitious co-production between the BBC and HBO, The Casual Vacancy is an adaption of J.K Rowling’s first adult novel, a piece that finds her exploring more mature subject matter than those found in her phenomenally successful Harry Potter series. Set in the supposedly idyllic English village of Pagford, the problems of the less well-to-do neighboring council estate, The Fields, and its residents become an issue in local elections, with tragic results.
Parish Council chairman Howard Mollison (Michael Gambon) and his wife, Shirley (Julie McKenzie), dream of turning Sweetlove House, a community center serving Pagford’s needy, into a chic spa that would draw moneyed tourists. But they’re one vote shy of a Parish Council majority, with steadfast Barry Fairbrother (Rory Kinnear) vowing to keep Sweetlove open, believing it is their duty to serve the areas less fortunate. Despite Barry’s passionate plea, the differing sides nearly come to blows over the issue.
Shortly thereafter, Barry’s unexpected death leaves a “Casual Vacancy” that the Mollisons are determined to fill with their milquetoast, follower son, Miles (Rufus Jones). The group wishing to save Sweetlove House has their own equally ineffectual candidate in Colin Wall (Simon McBurney), a toupee-wearing, easily intimidated school headmaster.
The Casual Vacancy has a lot of characters and the plot is somewhat complex. While that’s a bit of a knock against the mini-series, when you break it down, Vacancy is a story about how those in need are abandoned by those with the power to help them. In the time before he died and later in flashback, it’s clear that Barry genuinely cared about the people in his community, and understood that an individual’s difficulties were often a result of their circumstances. Improve the circumstances, and the people will respond.
Sarah Phelps (EastEnders) does a fine job adapting Rowling’s novel. While several storyline changes had to be made, the accomplished cast brings an exciting energy to the proceedings. Most impressively handled are the tragic deaths of several characters. While The Casual Vacancy will never eclipse the success of the Harry Potter series, The Casual Vacancy is definitely worth checking out for her adult fans.
Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Warner Brothers has given The Casual Vacancy an excellent transfer. A nice layer of grain is present throughout, and contrast is steady. Black levels are inky with no sign of crush. Colors are bright and vibrant. Flesh tones look natural and no artifacts or noise are apparent.
The English DTS-HD MA 5.1 serves the mini-series well. Dialogue is clean and clear, and the few effects and ambient sounds there are, have been given some extra oomph. No complaints here.
English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- An Introduction to The Casual Vacancy (HD, 8:33) A brief introduction to the main characters, plot, locations.
- Adapting The Casual Vacancy (HD, 9:49) The process of bringing the book to the screen is discussed.
- Casting The Casual Vacancy (HD, 13:31) A look at the ensemble cast.