J.K. Rowling may have another hit on her hands. The first episode of the three-part television adaptation for her first adult novel, The Casual Vacancy, drew strong ratings when it aired on the U.K.’s BBC on Sunday night.
The Casual Vacancy, published in 2012, marked Rowling’s first post-Harry Potter book. It takes place in Pagford, a seemingly idyllic English village where things are actually far from perfect. After an important member of council suddenly dies, the town’s dark underbelly and heinous secrets become exposed, causing all hell to break loose. The novel tackles some pretty grim subject matter, including domestic abuse, racial tension, and the complex political dynamics of a small town. Though the novel earned mixed critical reviews, it became a bestseller, largely thanks to Rowling’s popularity as an author.
Now, it seems the show, directed by Jonny Campbell (In the Flesh) and penned by Sarah Phelps (EastEnders, BBC’s Great Expectations), is also performing well. According to BBC News, the series averaged 6.6 million viewers, making it the highest-rated series in the 9 p.m. time slot for the day. That’s a strong start for the miniseries and a good sign not only for BBC, but also for HBO, which signed on to co-produce last year.
The ratings aren’t the only thing that The Casual Vacancy has going for it. Though the novel may have gotten mixed reviews, the series version has been earning a much more positive reception from critics, with some even suggesting that the story makes for a better drama than it does a novel.
The show boasts a stacked cast, starring Rory Kinnear (Penny Dreadful), Julia McKenzie (Agatha Christie’s Marple), and Michael Gambon (who played Dumbledore in Rowling’s Harry Potter). Simona Brown (Wizards vs. Aliens), Emily Bevan (In the Flesh), Lolita Chakrabarti (The Bill), and Monica Dolan (The Escape Artist) also co-star, among others. Viewers got a first look at the small screen adaptation earlier this month and it seems the show is living up to the intriguing trailer.
“Rowling’s first Muggles-only book for adults, was deemed a mild disappointment on its 2012 release, but as a three-part TV serial, it’s much more satisfying,” The Independent wrote of the series, later adding that Campbell deserves credit for enhancing the structure established in Rowling’s book.
Meanwhile, The Telegraph wrote that the performances in the show are “uniformly good, the direction is inventive, and there’s an undeniable topicality and panache to this adaptation that convinces you that just around the corner something will pull it all together and make it succeed.”
With two more episodes still set to air, we’ll have to stay tuned to see if the show can retain or build upon its solid viewership. Regardless, the mostly positive buzz may work in favor of HBO, which will bring the show stateside this spring. One thing’s for sure: Viewers both in the States and overseas shouldn’t expect the series to stay completely faithful to the book. Screenwriter Phelps reportedly changed the “grim” original ending to give the audience “some kind of redemptive moment at the end of it all.” Whether that change will pay off remains to be seen.
The Casual Vacancy will debut on HBO on April 29.