I bought The Crow Road on DVD primarily because the BBC chose, for whatever reason, contractual or otherwise, not to repeat or put on iPlayer any episodes, but they were apparently happy to flog parts 3 & 4 for download at £7.75. The sheer effrontery of their choosing to profit from it, when by rights every quality drama should be available for viewing retrospectively, stunned me almost as much as the vague and nonsensical reply from the producer to my question about this reckless omission. Thankfully, the DVD was available and at a smaller sum than the download price.
The timing of this adaptation of The Crow Road, a novel I have never read, was apposite in view of the tragically early death of Iain Banks. Clearly the Beeb felt the same way, since a fine cast (presided over by the mythical presence of Uncle Rory in the shape of the new Doctor Who, Peter Capaldi, a very different guise to his Malcolm Tucker) has been assembled to bring to life the words of Banks. As Wikipedia describes the plot:
A pivotal period in Prentice McHoan’s life is described, seen through his preoccupations with death, sex, his relationship with his father, unrequited love, sibling rivalry, a missing uncle, relationships, drink (and other intoxicants) and God, with the background a celebration of the Scottish landscape.
And so it is that each of these ingredients are wrapped into an intriguing mystery and whodunnit, with elements of dark comedy thrown in for good measure. What makes this 4-part drama so fascinating is that the characters are beautifully fleshed out, eccentric to a man and woman, bouncing off one another like snooker balls against the rich backdrop of Scottish scenery and architecture. This is a rich tale which could have been a fine if quirky soap, were it not for the mystery wrapped within. It engages from the start without ever outstaying its welcome, and, as per the old showbiz motto, leaves us wanting more.
It seems grossly unfair to single out any one of the cast for special praise since they all contribute equally to the journey experienced by young Prentice in the person of Joe McFadden, but the playing is uniformly admirable by the likes of the archetypal craggy Scot Bill Paterson, Dougray Scott, Simone Bendix, Ashley Watt, David Robb and Paul Young, among many others.
The only real criticism I have is that the denouement, when it comes, is something of an anti-climax. Like an Agatha Christie and a Chinese takeaway, you wanted more to consume within the hour, so the ending seemed unfulfilling, as endings often are. Maybe, like Twin Peaks, it should have gone on and preserved the mystery while the characters continue to grow and mature, though sadly Banks is no longer around to write sequels with the same characters – unlike Stephen King and Roddy Doyle, who in the past week have respectively published sequels to The Shining and The Commitments.
Unquestionably worth watching, and likely to encourage further dips into the Banks oeuvre, both for reading and TV adaptation purposes.