TV review: The Casual Vacancy, BBC One (3 stars)

TV review: The Casual Vacancy, BBC One

The BBC bring JK Rowling’s post-Potter project to life with mixed results

What do you do after you’ve finally closed the book on a series as huge as Harry Potter? Hogwarts, Harry, Hagrid and co were such a huge global phenomena it would have been easy to continue down a similar path with yet more wizarding adventures. JK Rowling instead decided to head into pastures new. The Casual Vacancy was a smaller, contained story of life in a quaint English village and marked Rowling’s first foray into adult fiction (though is that a sly nod to HP in the strategically placed Wizard of Oz poster in the opening scene?).

With Rowling’s name behind it, the BBC’s adaptation unsurprisingly attracted a cast of some of TV’s best kent faces, with Rory Kinnear, Michael Gambon, Julia McKenzie and Keeley Hawes all rubbing shoulders in the cosy town of Pagford. This seemingly quaint village backs onto a rough as boots council estate populated by lowlifes, thieves and drunkards. The difference between the two is perhaps too extreme to be realistic but it's a useful shorthand for contrasting the two lifestyles, emphasising Britain's obsession with the class system.

Gambon's Parish council leader Howard Mollison sums up the NIMBY nature of majority of Pagford residents, with his proposals to redevelop the local social projects (a food bank, rehab centre, etc) into a luxury spa. Kinnear is the principled opponent, but a sudden death on the council means this tied vote could be won by either side; battle lines are drawn and the search for a new council member is on.

There are broad stereotypes on both sides. The working class are all junkies and criminals, though Abigail Lawrie deserves praise for her portrayal of tough teenager Krystal Weedon. While the Pagfordites are mostly pompous and uncaring. There are hints of even darker skeletons lurking in all manner of closets by the close of episode one, as a sinister email is sure to cause major ructions.

The Casual Vacancy is beautifully made, the Cotswolds looks suitably picturesque but it's also undeniably twee and cosy. It's a gentle, unchallenging drama – think Midsomer Murders without the homicide – and a good fit for the Sunday evening timeslot.

Episode 2 airs Sun 22 Feb and Episode 3 on Sun 1 Mar.

Watch The Casual Vacancy episode 1 on BBC iPlayer now (expires 17 Mar, 2015).

The Casual Vacancy: Trailer - BBC One