The Casual Vacancy finale review: Superb cast, luscious cinematography - shame about the confused ending

Episode 3: Too often it resembled a jumble of deleted scenes from Hot Fuzz

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The Independent Culture

Chickens came home to roost, desserts were duly just and skeletons danced the conga out of every cupboard in Pagford, as the BBC’s adaptation of JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy came to its slightly confused end. While the cast were superb and the cinematography luscious, the show floundered without ever really working out what it was and you couldn’t help but feel that Rowling’s novel had been rather shoehorned into the three hours.

Election fever was raging in Pagford, as hyperventilating wimp Colin Wall (Simon McBurney) went head to head with pudgy wimp Miles Mollison (Rufus Jones) to fill the title’s vacancy on the parish council. Ironically (those of us who have watched all three episodes hardly need telling it was ironic, as there was enough dramatic irony to fill a village hall twice over) Colin voted against himself and subsequently lost by one vote. The result of which was that the pompous Howard and Shirley Mollison (Michael Gambon and Julia McKenzie, playing the odious couple with tangible relish) could push through their plans to turn Sweetlove House from vague social enterprise to a luxury spa.


A chain of action is then set into place which ultimately ends in the tragic death of young Krystal Weedon, which was mainly upsetting as it robbed the show of the one character possessing an ounce of nuance. In fact Abigail Lawrie has rather carried the programme at times, though she was given the advantage of playing a character who had more than one personality trait. Other fine actors were reduced to the role of Distraught Wife or Horrible Man.

Too often The Casual Vacancy resembled a jumble of deleted scenes from Hot Fuzz (admit it, you wouldn’t have been surprised if the parish council had started talking about ‘The Greater Good’). If you were after subtlety on your Sunday evening, Pagford wasn’t the place. This was The Land That Subtext Forgot.

Sadly it was just all too predictable. Krystal’s junkie mother cleaned up her act before going back to the drugs, Howard had an affair then a heart attack, and almost every character was lumbered with a minor personal revelation in the last 15 minutes. Sadly these added up to little more than nasty Simon Price (Richard Glover) realising it’s not nice to be nasty or catty Samantha Mollison (Keeley Hawes) understanding that her unpleasant mother-in-law deserves a little kindness after her world had just caved in.

As for a message (The Casual Vacancy, both novel and TV show, has been variously attacked and praised for its alleged left wing politics), that largely boiled down to ‘it’s really not very good to be a selfish, stuck-up arse’, which is hard to disagree with really.