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The Casual Vacancy: Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

The Casual Vacancy (2015) Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com The Casual Vacancy
Miniseries & Blu-ray Disc Details

Director: Jonny Campbell / Writers: Sarah Phelps (teleplay), J.K. Rowling (novel)

Cast: Michele Austin (Kaye Bawden), Emily Bevan (Mary Fairbrother), Silas Carson (Vikram Jawanda), Lolita Chakrabarti (Parminder Jawanda), Marie Critchley (Ruth Price), Monica Dolan (Tess Wall), Keeley Forsyth (Terri Weedon), Richard Glover (Simon Price), Keeley Hawes (Samantha Mollison), Joe Hurst (Arf Price), Rufus Jones (Miles Mollison), Rory Kinnear (Barry Fairbrother), Abigail Lawrie (Krystal Weedon), Simon McBurney (Colin Wall), Brian Vernel (Fats Wall), Julia McKenzie (Shirley Mollison), Michael Gambon (Howard Mollison), Ria Choony (Sukhvinder Jawanda), Hetty Baynes Russell (Mo), Bryce Sanders (Robbie Weedon), Hayley Downing (Lexi Mollison), Lauren Downing (Libby Mollison), Mary Roscoe (Monica), Menna Trussler (Betty), Emilia Fox (Julia Sweetlove), Julian Wadham (Aubrey Sweetlove), Sonny Ashbourne Serkis (Paul Price), Simona Brown (Gaia Bawden), Pascal Laurent (Death)

Original Air Dates: February 15-March 1, 2015 (UK), April 29-30, 2015 (US) / Running Time: 182 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated (TV-14 on air)

2.40:1 Widescreen / 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Blu-ray Release Date: August 4, 2015 / Suggested Retail Price: $29.97
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50) / Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Box
Also available on DVD ($24.98 SRP)

Buy The Casual Vacancy from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD • DVD

J.K. Rowling will forever be known first and foremost as the author of the Harry Potter books. The franchise that gave her many lifetimes' worth of financial security as well as a permanent place in the annals of literature continues to yield significant returns (e.g. Wizarding World),
but Rowling has chosen not to let that one series be the extent of her legacy. Since Harry's saga concluded in print and on film, Rowling has written three books for adult readers, only one of which she put her real name on: The Casual Vacancy, a 500-page novel published in 2012.

Rowling's post-Potter work is certain to attract more interest than the average piece of fiction and the BBC has already produced and aired The Casual Vacancy, a 3-part, 3-hour miniseries that was broadcast in April by HBO in the United States. This is a complete departure from the world of Potter. Obviously, there is nothing the slightest bit magical about this drama, but also the universal allure of the timeless English wizarding tales is replaced by storytelling that is very specific to a time and place, namely a village in present-day England. Whereas Potter dabbled in grand themes, big sets and effects characteristic of modern spectacle cinema, and some classical flourishes (like a John Williams score), Casual studies flawed human characters, remaining intimate and full of prominent licensed music.

In "The Casual Vacancy", Michael Gambon plays a character far from Dumbledore as parish council leader Howard Mollison.

Our story opens with 40-year-old do-gooder Barry Fairbrother (Rory Kinnear) doing good deeds. Devoted to maintaining the endangered neighborhood fixture Sweetlove House, he bails out a drug-addicted mother of two, checks in on his teenaged nephews, and objects to plans to separate an area called The Fields from the rest of Pagford. As a member of the Pagford Parish Council, Barry has a say in the matter. But less than half an hour in, our lead and by far most sympathetic character dies suddenly of a brain aneurysm.
His death creates the titular vacancy on the council, one that three different men seek to fill: his ne'-er-do-well half-brother Simon Price (Richard Glover), affluent high school teacher Colin Wall (Simon McBurney), and Miles Mollison (Rufus Jones), the spineless lawyer son of council leader and deli owner Howard Mollison (Michael Gambon). Meanwhile, an unknown party begins making attention-grabbing online posts as the ghost of Barry Fairbrother.

Bouncing among these characters and their neighbors -- including the junkie's provocative teen daughter Krystal (Abigail Lawrie), her family's social worker (Michele Austin), Wall's randy nihilist son (Brian Vernel) who becomes Krystal's boyfriend, a doctor who stands up to Howard (Lolita Chakrabarti), and Barry's widow (Emily Bevan), to name just a few -- the series is interested in class divides and gentrification. Though it includes some actors that US moviegoers will recognize, this British television production shows little concern for American audiences enjoying or relating to this, despite the weight that Rowling's name carries around the globe. It's angsty, it's edgy, and it is sure to divide viewers, regardless of the love they hold for the world of Potter and regardless of their knowledge and appreciation of the adapted text.

Troubled teen Krystal Weedon (Abigail Lawrie) shocks her private school's staff and classmates with her outrageous reinterpretation of the dress code.

There is some thoughtful commentary on class differences and human nature, but there is also the requirement of spending three hours with characters you dislike to varying degrees. The unsatisfying dramatic note on which the series ends suggests that scribe Sarah Phelps (a twelve-year veteran of British TV) and director Jonny Campbell (19 years in the same niche) perhaps haven't cracked adapting this book to the extent you'd like.

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Casual Vacancy employs 2.40:1, the wider of today's two standards, an aspect ratio typically reserved for cinema. This TV production could pass for that, especially on a Blu-ray that shows off a sharp, immaculate element. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio presents dialogue crisply and with weight. The aforementioned prominent needle drops complement the speech, never drowning it out or overpowering it.

Three featurettes give us brief behind-the-scenes looks. Actor Rufus Jones describes his character Miles Mollison, one of three attempting to fill Barry's parish council vacancy.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Three extras accompany the feature presentation on Blu-ray.

"An Introduction to The Casual Vacancy" (8:33) sees the cast and crew describe the "Dickensian" story, the characters, and their resonance.

"Adapting The Casual Vacancy" (9:49) focuses on the process of turning the novel into a three-episode miniseries. Rowling is again conspicuously absent.

Finally, "Casting The Casual Vacancy" (13:31) moves through the cast, considering how the actors landed their parts and approached their characters.

The silent, static menu retools the cover art to fill the 16:9 frame.

Warner treats Casual Vacancy like a television series, placing the red disc's eco-friendly keepcase in a five-sided box reproducing the same artwork. An insert supplies a code and directions for the Digital HD with UltraViolet included with your purchase.

Barry Fairbrother (Rory Kinnear), the most sympathetic character of "The Casual Vacancy", is not long for this world, though his character takes on a ghostly presence online and in flashbacks.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Casual Vacancy demonstrates that J.K. Rowling is capable of contemporary satire and reasonably compelling Muggle drama. The pitch-black conclusion to this miniseries does not satisfy, but we still get an engaging three hours of character study.

Warner's Blu-ray deserves the highest marks for picture and sound. Its three bonus featurettes add a little value as well.

Buy The Casual Vacancy from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD / DVD

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Related Reviews:
New to Blu-ray: My Beautiful Laundrette • A Little Chaos • Madame Bovary
The Fall: Series 1 • Cemetery Junction • Men, Women & Children • Driving Lessons • Horns • Houdini
Michael Gambon: Quartet • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou • Brideshead Revisited • The King's Speech
Simon McBurney: Magic in the Moonlight | Keeley Hawes: The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box
Rory Kinnear: The Imitation Game • Broken | Richard Glover: Into the Woods | Teleplay by Sarah Phelps: Camelot: The Complete First Season
From J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire | Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 • Part 2

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Reviewed August 18, 2015.



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