The Casual Vacancy
The Casual Vacancy is out now for Blu-Ray and Digital Download. Should you buy this HBO Mini-Series? Read on for our review of this show.
HBO’s The Casual Vacancy, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling, follows the lives of the members of a small, quiet English town called Pagford. However, while small and quiet, the issues of its inhabitants are anything but. When the unexpected death of a town councilman occurs, multiple factions start campaigning over who should replace their deceased colleague. However, all have their own agendas. Meanwhile, a young girl must handle her mother’s drug problems while taking care of her little brother, a young man tries to deal with his abusive father by secretly taking him down, and a grieving widow is forced to interact with conniving members of the community.
As you can see, The Casual Vacancy is much more than it seems. It is a roller coaster of a drama that creatively tells a story about death and how everyone deals with it. In the beginning, this mini-series starts out slow. It took me midway through the first episode to really connect with any characters. The series seemed to follow the life of Parish Councilman Barry Fairbrother, (Rory Kinnear) a good man who just wants to help the people of Pagford who can’t help themselves. He’s a nice, relatable character. One audiences can really cheer for. The Casual Vacancy made me like this man so much that when he died from a brain aneurysm, I was in shock. However, I wasn’t the only one. So were all the people of Pagford, except for his brother but we’ll get to that later. This unprecedented development led to a very enthralling, at times frustrating, dramatic storyline.
The Casual Vacancy, in a way, reminded me of a very modern, conservative version of another HBO show, Game of Thrones. Once Ned Stark died, the show became outnumbered with antagonists. This is much of the same in The Casual Vacancy. After the death of Fairbrother, I started desperately seeking a character to root for. Unfortunately, there aren’t many to find. Fairbrother’s brother Simon Price (Richard Glover) is an entitled, angry man deadset on conning anyone to get ahead. The Mollison’s, Howard (Michael Gambon) and Shirley (Julia McKenzie), play a rich elderly couple who are trying to make money off of Pagford by bringing in an extravagant spa. Even Krystal Weedon’s story (Abigail Lawrie) of taking care of her brother and drugged up mother is so tragic, with only brief glimpses of hope. At times, it became extremely frustrating to watch because there weren’t many good moments to balance out all the bad. That isn’t to say it isn’t a good series. In fact, that’s what makes it an interesting watch. I found myself wanting to know who would win between the rich Mollison’s, the middle-class Wall’s, or the poor Price family in the war for Pagford control or if Krystal would ever find happiness within the dark world she lived in.
While I did enjoy the story of The Casual Vacancy, I wished that it would have been longer than three episodes. It is so hard to tell a story in three, hour and a half, episodes. I couldn’t even figure out why everyone was up in arms in the first place. As time went on, the reasons became clearer and that may have been by design but with more time it could’ve been better explained. Furthermore, on a character aspect, it was a little hard to grasp their missions. After Barry’s death, they kept adding on new characters and hiding away others, without finishing their storylines. Making it really hard to connect with any of the characters for more than an episode. It made me want to read the book just for a better reference of what the characters should’ve been like. For example, Simon has an issue where he’s worried his reputation will be destroyed. He handles it and then he’s gone for a while until we find out he got a promotion. It was a complete 180 that I couldn’t quite understand. Then, we’re introduced to the Miles Mollison characters, son of Howard and Shirley, who is a spineless man with no passion toward his future or his wife and kids. I didn’t understand this character. There was no backstory, no reason for the marital problems between him and his wife. If it wasn’t for his parents, his storyline seemed almost useless. I think with more time, though, there was potential for a good depth of characters.
Despite some of its flaws and plotholes, The Casual Vacancy is a gorgeous mini-series. The art direction and the visuals were so captivating, I wanted to visit Pagford. Without knowing any better about the community, I almost would’ve wanted to live in Pagford. It was that beautiful. Plus, watching it on blu-ray on my PS4 doesn’t hurt the picture quality either. This is definitely a series to watch, if only for the wonderful direction the entire team took with the videography.
Overall, The Casual Vacancy does a good job within the time constraints that it had. The storyline has a lot of twists and turns. It’ll make your heart wrench and then make you cheer in approval. Which any good series should be able to do, move you. The scenery and photography are captivatingly gorgeous. Plus, the ensemble cast does a wonderful job portraying each of their extremely flawed characters. Furthermore, much like with any series worth its salt, there are many lessons to take away from this series too. Don’t discount life over petty feuds and ambitions, enjoy what’s in front of you while you can. Don’t take anything for granted. For Death is the true Casual Vacancy.