The Casual Vacancy




I’d rather watch grass grow

IN the opening shots of The Casual Vacancy, the camera sweeps over the English countryside and a picturesque village, complete with old stocks in the square.

It might be Midsomer – minus the juicy murders. Which is a pity, because The Casual Vacancy needs something to kick it along from dull and depressing to engaging.

Based on JK Rowling’s acclaimed book, this mini-series centres on the parish council of Pagford which is divided over converting a community centre into a “wellness spa”.

The campaign in favour is led by Howard (Michael Gambon, Dumbledore from the later Harry Potter movies) and Shirley Mollison (Julia McKenzie, Miss Marple), who don’t want the “wrong” sort of people in Pagford.

But a more liberal-minded councillor Barry Fairbrother (Rory Kinnear) makes an inspired speech about serving people and not turning away when there’s need. Barry is Pagford’s good guy. We see him encouraging his nephews, horribly bullied by Barry’s half brother Simon, and driving a drug addict home from jail.

Her teenage daughter Krystal watches from the window.

We meet her later in their house as she tries to look after her baby brother with her mother passed out on the couch.

But then Barry drops dead. Ah ha, the plot….well, becomes a plot. Murdered? Is something about to happen?

Not really. Barry’s death does cause a “casual vacancy” on council and interested par ties are quick to star t campaigning.

Howard bullies his son into becoming a candidate, despite the wishes of the son’s wife (who also bullies him).

A well-meaning, anxious headmaster agrees to stand.

And Barry’s half brother Simon, a particularly unpleasant loser, thinks he might win votes as “Saint Barry’s brother”.

The Casual Vacancy is not without its “moments”. There’s a lovely uncomfortable silence when Simon tells his family of his plans to run for the council vacancy.

We sense how much they hate this tyrant. Simon’s son even manages to bravely tell him, “You’re not Barry”.

Then there’s a delightful, telling moment when Mayor Howard and Shirley dress up in their best to visit the “manor house” to tell its posh residents about the deadlock on the community centre.

Though they arrive at the front door, our snobs shuffle them out the back door at once, all the while complaining about the high cost of having to heat their mansion.

The wife breezily tells the visitors they don’t need to come again; just email the housekeeper with news. Howard and Shirley try to find their way back to the front, all the while agreeing, “What a delightful couple”.

Then, in the dying minutes of the first episode, the writers present us with a whisper of hope.

The ghost of Barry Fairbrother is online, pleased at the comments left about him on the council website.

The “ghost” posts about secrets in Pagford.

Is The Casual Vacancy about to get a bit juicy?

This is a series about social conflicts and divisions in a village. It puts Pagford under a microscope and from there reflects about inequality etc in our lives and society.

Very worthy. Also terribly dull.

I tried to like The Casual Vacancy. I wanted to like it. But it was just so darned hard to care about their squabbles.

It all feels very depressing and I doubt I can sit through another hour without copious amounts of alcohol.

Persevere if you must; tell me if it gets any better. I’m much rather rewatch Outlander or Wayward Pines – or watch grass grow.


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