sun 21/07/2024

Case Histories, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Case Histories, BBC One

Case Histories, BBC One

Kate Atkinson's likeable private eye solves crime quirkily in Edinburgh

Jason Isaacs as Jackson Brodie scowls against the brooding Edinburgh skyline in 'Case Histories'

Thanks to her evergreen bestseller Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Kate Atkinson can call on an army of fans to buy her work whenever it appears in print. Its debut on screen is, perhaps, another matter. Will they buy the BBC’s rendition of Case Histories? Those who have not had the pleasure of reading it are less advantageously placed to grumble about hideous revisions, outrageous changes and all manner of infidelities.

But even an Atkinson newbie might find it a bit rum that Scotland seems to be entirely populated by people with English accents.

Welcome to the BBC casting department's version of Edinburgh. At least the city played its part to the hilt. “Non le ciel n’est pas sodding bleu,” private detective Jackson Brodie advised the nice woman on the Teach Yourself French CD in his car. In the first of three two-part cases, Auld Reekie’s gloomy brickwork brooded darkly as Brodie pursued any number of loose ends and one lost cat.

Case Histories provides Jason Isaacs with a part that feels like a very snug fit. As Jackson Brodie - or Mr Brodie to his clients, in a drama that keeps faith with old-fashioned formalities - he is part hunk, part mess, all sleuth. A regular set of contradictions, he jogs and he smokes, he smiles and he scowls. Wife long gone, along with the police job, he has limited access to his daughter and the case files of mysteries he’s hired to solve. It’s not quite clear which frustrates him more. “You’re so desperate to belong,” Brodie’s old colleague (Amanda Abbington) told him, “but there’s something in your character that will never let you do that.” It’s good to have these things heavily signposted. A fiver says that something's to do with the haunting memories of a drowned sister, whom we saw being climactically fished out of a canal.

CaseHistories2To crowbar three books into six hour-long episodes, there are times when it all feels that atmospherics and the finer brushstrokes have been sacrificed to the crude requirements of exposition. Brodie inherited his first case when, hired to look for an old bat’s cat, he heard screams in the neighbouring garden. “Everything OK?” he said, poking his head over the wall, and within two lines of dialogue he was on a new case. A diehard Atkinson fan may well, no doubt, write in to explain that’s exactly how it happened in the book; I’ve a hunch it was subtler.

As adapted by Ashley Pharaoh, Atkinson’s world view seems to encompass an ambivalent attitude to murder and other perversions. Yes, it was brutal and horrid to see a young woman have her throat slashed, blood spurting wiggly lines on the wall of her father’s law firm, thus sending Brodie on the hunt for a killer the police can’t track down. But the ghastliness has its frothy side too. Brodie has also been asked to investigate the long-unsolved disappearance of a little girl by her two posh sisters. Played for comedy by Natasha Little and Fenella Woolgar (pictured above), it was hard to buy into their anguish. Little’s character is flirting with Brodie without let-up, though not as successfully as a more pragmatic vamp who humped him simply so he would take on another missing person’s case.

Case Histories is dripping with character actors doing their thing (none more than Phil Davis as the bereaved lawyer who can’t believe his murdered daughter might actually have had a sex life). But Isaacs’ most watchable co-star is Millie Innes (pictured below left with Isaacs) as his precocious eight-year-old Marlee, who has a knowing attitude to gore and, happily accompanying her father as some kind of junior sidekick, sticks just the right side of intolerably cute. (Another reason to high-five her performance: she's actually Scottish.)

CaseHistories1Brodie also has excellent taste in mournful music: it was a deep pleasure to hear him spin Nanci Griffith’s version of John Prine’s “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”. “Why do we always have to listen to sad music?” wondered Marlee. I guess because we need to have these things spelled out.

But Case Histories will live or die on Isaacs’ immensely likeable performance. Trouble is, enough people have to like him being liked by a lot of female characters (he doesn't talk to men much). Look what happened to Rufus Sewell and Zen, the much-admired outing for Michael Dibdin's suave detective which BBC Drama ruthlessly culled and dumped like a victim in a murder mystery.

Case Histories will live or die on Isaacs’ immensely likeable performance

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It may come as a shock but the flirtatious nature of the sisters is one of the few elements which is relatively faithful to the books. As for the rest it is basically the names and the basics of the plot that are right and not a lot else. To be fair to the adaptor it would be an inpossible task to squeeze the three books into 6 one hour episodes given their nature. A brave commissioning editor would have given 6 hours to one book and seen if it was a success. Sadly it seems that the audience are not trusted to stick with something for 6 parts or more unless it is made in the US - The Shadowline being the honourable exception at the moment. The books have a humanity and wit about them which the series has struggled to catch so far. Possibly for those coming to it cold it is a good programme but for me having read all four books recently it just doesn't work.

lovely piece, but "old bat"? c'mon...

Agreed, mostly English accents... and whenever there are any Scottish accents they sounded very much from the West Coast.

Would like to have some titles from the soundtrack if anyone recognised them?

Hi Sarah - if you go on iPlayer, find the programme, go to the box below the main Click to play screen, on the right there is a link "about this episode: Episode 1", click and scroll down it gives you a Track List.

yes the soundtrack details would be great


I agree with Derek up to a point, was watching it out of one eye when I thought it sounded familiar(a friend had given it to me to read as part of world book night),sat up, paid attention and then watched it.Enjoyed the style and characters but realised it would take some adaption for the screen,hence the poetic licence in how the story line played out.The information was delivered but not always the same way as the book.I was not aware it was part a series of four books so I can now join the ranks of the uninformed for the next four programes.Lets see if I can work out "who done it or who didn't done it" as the case seemed to be.All the more reason to tune in (that's if I can get my telly to work after the digital switch over .Wish me luck!).

I thought the adaptation was brilliant - two hours packed with great plotting and acting. Kate Atkinson doesn't do gritty realism but the balance of humour and pathos was superb - lots of really touching moments. Isaacs is too young and fit but very likeable. Loved the music track

Agree very much with Derek Bell comments as someone who has read and enjoyed the books this is best avoided. You might actually find it less confusing if you haven't read the books but a lot of the dialogue was unintelligible to me. Music, what music?

i don't think the scottish location was pushed in the programme so the locations and accents didn't bother me although i recognised the "error". One Good Turn (if memory doesn't fail me) is set in Edinburgh and should be great fun. I hope in succeeding programmes we don't see too many flashbacks to Jackson's sister and brother's demise(s).

Loving this adaptation. I'm also interested in the music - does anyone know what Jackson is listening to in the car?

Edinburgh looks too good. There are very few people, no queues of busses, no armies of blue meanies, no tram mess of yellow diversion signs, armies of cones and closed off streets. Where were all the dogwalkers on Cramond beach? Paid to stay away? The city needs its people going about their business. And we all know that the weather can be hellish if it wants to be.

It is irritating when many BBC accents are blanket English, however in the books Marlee is living in the south of England with her English mother, so it would have been a bit peculiar if she sounded scottish! I personally have always been able to embrace the not always plausible plots (I think they're deliberatly far flung) to enjoy her wonderful, sharp and complicated observations of girls and women. I didn't dislike this adaptation, Brody worked better than I expected, it's just I think the subtleties that made the books magnetic were lost.

Why were episodes 5 and 6 repeats, or had I missed episodes 1 to 4 when the series was first shown?

this is a pretty confusing song. but im pretty sure that one of the guys from brand new cheated on one of the guys from taking back sunday's sister. and the guy from tbs wrote this about it(i think) so you gotta take into consideration that.

I wanted to know about the soundtrack too so I've trawled through iplayer and put the list together on my blog.

Thanks very much! just what Ive been looking for!:-) Eva,norway

Wonderful! I have been wishing for a track listing from Case Histories. The music added so much to my overall enjoyment of the show. Thanks for the list!

Very relieved to see it wasn't just me who was confused by the apparent lack of Scots in Scotland these days. Also loved the fact that the Land sisters had Edinburgh accents as children but grew up into that pair of luvvies who wouldn't know Edinburgh if it bit them in the bum.

the drama is ok but the soundtrack??! bluergh! Which Lethal Weapon film was that gleaned from do you think? More 80's cop show than anything else. Completely off-putting.

Horrible soundtrack detracts from the plot, the acting and everything else.

The soundtrack for the Case Histories series is brilliant, and includes a number of my all-time favorite artists, including Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams, and Iris DeMent. Others I didn't know I intend to get to know. The music was an added intensity to the series, and a pleasure to hear.

Over here in the US, we get from PBS, the occasional Miss Marple and a few Inspector Lewis'. This is a very good show and a breath of fresh air.

What a beautiful soundtrack who is the singer where can i get her album??????

getting back to the original question: What is the Theme Tune? BTW that's not the soundtrack, and isn't listed. It's the first (same) song on each episode... Thanx

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