Stonemouth, TV review: Scenery steals the show as this Scottish mystery takes itself too seriously

This two-part adaptation of Iain Banks' 26th novel is really more romantic mystery than crime thriller

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The Independent Culture

In 2012, Dunfermline-born writer Iain Banks published his 26th novel and three years later Stonemouth, a tale of homecoming and secrets, has reached the screen in this two-part BBC adaptation.

English actor Christian Cooke stars as Stewart Gilmour, a twentysomething man who has returned to Stonemouth for the funeral of his childhood pal Callum Murston. Stewart can't stay for long, having been run out of town two years ago by the local crime boss and Callum's father, Don Murston (Peter Mullan). We didn't know exactly what Stewart had done to incur the Murstons' wrath, but signs suggested it was something to do with Ellie Murston, Callum's younger sister and the love of Stewart's life.

Despite all the talk of drug money and murder, Stonemouth is really more romantic mystery than crime thriller. The development of the murder plot was regularly disrupted by dreamy flashbacks to adolescent memories – Ellie and Stewart's first kiss by a campfire and, less romantically, the time a childhood friend was hacked to death by someone's mentally ill brother during a paintballing excursion.

These reveries, combined with Stewart's wordy, insistent voiceover narration occasionally made Stonemouth seem like a drama that takes itself too seriously. This is a familiar pitfall for novel adaptations on TV, unfortunately. The casting of unnaturally attractive young actors and the condensing of a novel-length plot into two hours can result in a story like this to losing some of its original depth and texture. Even the usually good-value Peter Mullan couldn't quite lift his crime-boss character off the page. More successful was the cinematic depiction of a picturesque Scottish fishing town. You could quite see why Stewart would risk life and limb to get back there.

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