Sky One have a bit of a reputation for both making and amassing the best talent in terms of TV series and mini-series in Britain: chances are, if a rival network has the audacity to stumble across something of real merit before them (like 24 and Lost for instance) they will no doubt pilfer the show for themselves and run with it. A fairly new arm of the TV market that they have begun to make a real imprint on, which traditionally has been owned by terrestrial giants BBC and ITV, is the book adaptation arena.
There have already been a number of high-profile adaptations, including a recent version of Chris Ryan's Counter Strike, but the best by far have been the Terry Pratchett books that have been made into TV mini-series so far, starting with the excellent Hogfather, starring David Jason. The third in that particular series, Terry Pratchett's Going Postal is now available to buy on DVD and Blu Ray, and it continues the form, and excellent eye for casting that was set by the first two installments.Read on for the full review...
Typically of a Sky One/Pratchett adaptation, the casting is excellent: Charles Dance exudes poise and power as Vetinari the Patrician, and was far more understated than predecessor Jeremy Irons (who played the Patrician in The Colour of Magic), and I thought far more quietly menacing. Richard Coyle, in the lead as conman/postman Moist Von Lipwig is the complete opposite, bringing some of the cheeky charm he displayed in comedy series Coupling and a genuine likeability factor to the character. The star-studded cast is completed by David Suchet (brilliantly pantomime), Claire Foy, Andrew Sachs and Steve Pemberton, who each have clearly taken the manifesto of maintaining Pratchett's spirit of character genesis from his novels to heart.
The highlight of the acting performances- aside from David Suchet's unhinged brilliance- for me was Ian Bonar as comically obsessive pin collector or "pinhead" Stanley Howler. His excellent take on a personified bag of nerves is very rewarding viewing, while is allegiance to Von Lipwig and overall simpleton with a heart demeanour is enromously endearing. Watching him tick off the steps from a manual on What To Do In The Event of a Fire is a particular highlight.
Plot-wise, it's typically fun, too.
Coyle's Von Lipwig is a con man who is reprieved from his death sentence by the city Patrician and extended the opportunity to further put off his date with the hangman by bringing the suspiciously defunct postal system of Ankh-Morpork back to life. Not quite as simple as it sounds: the post office is filled with millions of undelivered letters, and is both painfully understaffed and there's a faint ominous whiff of the supernatural about the place. In addition, the new Post Master must fend off the treacherous attentions of Reacher Gilt (Suchet), the owner of the Clacks service (a clever Discworld version of the internet) that was responsible for the orginal demise of the post office.
The fantasist touches are excellent- and Going Postal is incredibly faithful to the detail of Pratchett's Discworld universe: especially in the bizarro fascination in proxy versions of new technology (the best Discworld novels have dealt with them- Moving Pictures, Soul Music and Going Postal each take modern world technology and give them a magical reimagining). In the case ofGoing Postal, of course it is the internet, and the alien presence element is perfectly brought to screen.
But it is not just on the large scale that Going Postal deals in detail- for every building that looks exactly as you'd expect Discworld architecture to look, there are the tiny touches that make the adaptation's attention to detail look breath-takingly painstaking. Where else would you hear of artists being employed over weeks to daub every one of the undelivered letters in the post office with a real address?! That is just one of the decisions that cumulatively point towards a painstaking process- there would undoubtedly have been several occasions where the use of CGI would have been the far easier option, but credit to the makers, the decision wasn't often taken.
Everything from the detail through the impressive camerawork to the exceptional opening sequence points to a fairly lavish budget, which one might expect from any Sky One production, and thankfully, very little of that money was spent in the kind of cinematic arrogance that The Colour of Magic has come to be accused of from some quarters. There is little unnecessary ostentation, and in every element Going Postal skirts the very edge of being over-the-top without ever setting foot once on the other side.
When it aired, the two-parter caused some series sparks in the Pratchett-fancying community: the majority of the criticism centred on the level to which the script ignored huge sections of detail from the original text. I can understand the sentiment, any production that so brazenly announces its fidelity to a text (or at least to the idea) by name-checking the author in the title should probably try to stick as close to the text as possible. Otherwise, the creative decision to cut a character, or change another looks too much like reckless abandonment of your film-making senses to anyone who wears their heart on their sleeve as a fan of the original text.
But despite being a fan of Pratchett's work, I can forgive the original touches, and welcome the meandering from the original: what is left is a stand-alone production that doesn't require the same level of pre-existing Discworld knowledge that The Colour of Magic did, but which almost matches the entertainment value of The Hogfather.
Overall, I genuinely liked Going Postal- I remember thinking, when it aired, that it was the perfect antidote to a traditionally wet British Bank Holiday, and now on Blu Ray it works just as well on repeated viewing. It may be an abbreviated version of the original, with new elements thrown in to boot, but it succeeds where every adaptation should- in enticing viewers to return to the original text for a different experience of the same subject matter. For that alone, it deserves heady praise.
Largely very good, I am yet to see a British TV Blu Ray release that uses the tools of the high-def format quite so well: perhaps it is because of the adaptation's attention to establishing a particular aesthetic quality that is both rich and slightly ethereal that its visual depth is already very strong, and the transfer requires limited work to look perfectly suited to Blu Ray. Or perhaps it's just the fact that it was filmed to be screened in HD on Sky One in the first place- either way Going Postal looks great. The sound is also clean and crisp, and both add up to suggesting a rather inflated budget that has done the final quality a great deal of good.
It's always nice to have the endorsement of the original text's creator- and Terry Pratchett has been a hero of mine ever since I discovered his books as a teenager, so to have him offering an Introduction to the third Sky One adaptation of his work is a nice touch (by the way that's the only extra feature on the single disc DVD version).
The Extras in full:Introduction by Terry Pratchett Deleted scenes Gag reel Cast interviews Director and producer commentary Terry Pratchett's Going Postal is available to buy on Blu Ray and DVD now.