Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling (BBC adaptation) Part One

11 Sep

The BBC have decided to immediately follow Cuckoo with Silkworm, so I now have to rush to get through both of them before they vanish from iPlayer.

If they throw out Career of Evil immediately after that, I may never get around to watching it, since I’ll do the book first if I cover it at all (which is a very big if given what Silkworm did to me) and I’m certainly in no hurry. The first two adaptations should give us an idea of how faithful the third will be to the source material, at least, so we can probably guess how good it was if I do miss it.

Cuckoo is split into three hour-long parts, while the others are only two (I think). This seems odd since I remember Silkworm having marginally more actual plot to it.

I’ve only seen a couple of trailers, so this is a ‘blind’ watch even though I know the story; I think they’ve included a lot more of Matthew purely to vilify him beyond reason (he features on exactly half a page in the original book) and it looks like they’ve made Robin slightly less annoyingly man-obsessed fluff, but other than that I haven’t a clue what they’ve done.

Let’s start this train hurtling towards wreckage, shall we?

[Mitchell here: my comments in bracketed italics per usual. I’m going off Loten’s summaries, I’ve not personally seen this and she recommended I keep it that way.]

Episode one has the synopsis, “Cormoran Strike investigates the truth surrounding a mysterious death.” I already take exception to this. It wasn’t a mysterious death, it looked like a textbook suicide and literally nobody thought it was anything else until the murderer decided to hire Strike to prove otherwise for reasons that were never, ever explained.

Interestingly, it says, “Drama series based on the novel by Robert Galbraith,” with no mention of who that actually is. Hmm. Oh well, let’s go.

We see Lula (Elarica Johnson) alive at the beginning, posing for the paparazzi and having a good time at a party before getting into a car and being driven home through quite heavy snow. Once home she instantly strips to her underwear and wanders around for a while. Sigh. [FFS. Is this really a thing people do?]

She answers her phone, tells someone she doesn’t want to see them, wanders around in her underwear some more, then gets dressed to answer the door. Lots of dramatic dimly-lit still shots of various things in her apartment. Her phone rings again, it’s Guy Somé who also has his name written on various photos etc. in the apartment. Then we hear sirens, the camera drifts outside and pans down through the snow very slowly to her lying on the ground.

Roll opening credits. The song used in the opening is quite nice, but doesn’t seem to have anything to do with anything. Also Rowling was the executive producer.

Robin (Holliday Grainger) is on the Tube smiling at her phone. We got so little description of Robin that they could more or less have cast anyone, but I like Holliday. [They cast someone named H. Grainger in a Rowling production? This amuses me.] Me too. She gets off and walks down the road for a bit before going through a door to a stairway, and as she climbs upwards we hear a lot of screaming and shouting. Oh joy, we get to see the fabled Charlotte (Natasha O’Keeffe). She has a black eye (in the book Strike does, and we never see Charlotte outside of dream sequences) and storms out of Strike’s office yelling that he’ll come running back like he always does, and stomps off downstairs.

Strike (Tom Burke) barges through the door as Robin’s about to knock. Nice bit of casting, I have to say, he looks and sounds more or less like I pictured. He slams into her and almost sends her flying down the stairs; to my secret disappointment we don’t get the insane breast-grabbing save from the book. Instead he grabs the collar of her coat and hauls her back, with weird motion-blur camera effects. [Hmm, the scene from the book would probably have been impossible to film and take seriously, but this sounds nearly as unflattering to Our Hero.]

He doesn’t know who she is; she explains she’s the new temp and he says he cancelled that as he clears a blanket and pillow off the couch. The place looks trashed. Robin says he won’t get a refund, Strike shrugs (he hasn’t introduced himself, though we saw his initials and surname on the office door) and says he’ll be in his office before walking off and leaving her to tidy up after his domestic dispute. [Charming. Also, I’m pretty sure this isn’t consistent with how actual temp agencies work, but I suppose there could be exceptions.]

John Bristow (Leo Bill) shows up. I assume we’re not going to see any other clients; the cast list in this gets confusing enough without seeing other cases. Instead we get to see Robin making tea while Strike cleans his teeth over his bin and sorts his clothes out a bit. Strike doesn’t remember John, who explains he’s the brother of a kid Strike went to school with and provides Strike’s first name.

He explains he’s here about his adopted sister Lula Landry, who Strike has heard of. Robin brings the drinks in and Strike calls her Sandra. She leaves to answer the phone and take a message from someone named Gillespie, while John explains he doesn’t think his sister commited suicide and shows a CCTV picture of someone who was seen near her apartment, plus handing over his own notes and the results of the inquest. I don’t think we’re going to see the plothole getting fixed, somehow. He offers Strike a thousand pounds just to read the file, then leaves.

Robin corrects Strike when he gets her name wrong again and they finally introduce themselves before Strike gives her a list of things to look up and goes to the pub. He does at least apologise for nearly throwing her down the stairs, but his behaviour is sketchy enough that she should be leaving now or at least calling the agency instead of doing as she’s told and only looking very slightly confused.

He stops to chat to an unnamed female neighbour (in the credits as Cath, played by Adelle Leonce), who teases him about the pretty girl hanging around so that he can mention he noticed her engagement ring; the neighbour says that usually doesn’t stop him. She asks what happened to his face, which confused me until he helpfully points out a very tiny scar hidden in his beard and says he got hit in the face with an ashtray. Sigh.

Strike walks off; he’s limping slightly but we haven’t been told why. Between shots of him going to the pub and looking at John’s file we watch Robin poking around the office and trying to figure out what she’s meant to be doing, before she Googles her new boss and finds out all about his rock star estranged father and his engagement to Charlotte and his military history, as well as the fact he’s only got one leg. It’s a decent enough way to show this information to the viewers, but none of this information is actually relevant to anything, ever, and it goes by so quickly you could easily miss half of it anyway. [I’m surprised the false leg isn’t visibly noticeable, especially for viewer benefit even if a real one might be concealable, but then Loten tells me in the book it went unnoticed by Robin until he’d actually removed it to use as a weapon, so this is probably an improvement?]

He stops at Lula’s apartment building to talk to the doorman, Derrick (Brian Bovell). Evidently realising people could have missed half the headlines in the previous scene, he tells the guy that he’s ex-military and lost his leg, before they actually talk about what happened that night. Derrick has to stop to let some other residents in (Freddie and Tansy Bestigui, played by Kevin Fuller and Tara Fitzgerald), but they conveniently arrived in the car Lula liked using so Strike gets a lift with the driver, Nico (David Avery).

Back at the office, a delivery guy drops off a load of cardboard boxes from Charlotte. That was quick.

Nico and Strike talk about what Lula did the day she died; she met with a friend from rehab, Rochelle. We get to see Strike writing things down, which is nice since in the book he really didn’t care.

Robin moves the boxes into Strike’s office and leaves. Possibly for lunch, though when we next cut to Strike it’s getting dark so maybe she’s just done for the day. Despite not having done anything. She also has no key to lock up behind her and no way of contacting her boss.

Strike calls his police buddy Anstis about speaking to the officer who investigated the Landry case, then does some shopping before going back to the office with a new sleeping bag and camp bed and finding the boxes.

At home Robin’s doing the case-related research she should have done earlier when Matthew (Kerr Logan) walks in. He looks too young and really sulky, and isn’t blond. Robin tells him about her day. Matthew apparently takes so little interest in her job that he didn’t know this new guy was a private investigator, which he sneers at (Roger Rabbit, seriously? That’s a very dated reference) until Robin explains Strike has a famous father. This still isn’t relevant.

Matthew looks at the computer screen and recognises Lula. Robin comments that she was so young and beautiful – I personally think she looked too old, but what do I know – and Matthew scoffs and says she was far too skinny and Robin “was” much fitter. None of this happened in the book.

Back to Strike, drinking in his office and watching football before taking his false leg off and… saying goodnight to it. I don’t know either. [Obviously it’s a horcrux.]

Matthew takes Robin’s computer off her and they have sex.

Strike gets woken up by a phone call in the middle of the night from DI Wardle (Killian Scott), who investigated Lula’s death. They meet in daylight at a café and talk about her neighbours (including the rapper Deeby Macc, and the couple Strike saw arriving at the building earlier), and her boyfriend the singer Evan Duffield.

Wardle – who also looks really young, what is with the casting here – is ridiculously unprofessional, scorning the victim for having a history of mental health problems and one of the witnesses (Tansy) for being on cocaine at the time, and clearly very unimpressed with Strike. It doesn’t take him long to stomp off, so Strike limps back to the office and asks Robin to create a client account for John Bristow.

Tansy, the aforementioned witness, claimed to have heard an argument before Lula died but later changed her statement, and for reasons unknown Strike thinks this is enough to throw doubt on the suicide verdict. The book skipped over a lot of relevant details as well so I’m not going to pick too much, though it’s implied that Strike’s mostly doing this to spite Wardle.

Robin’s made a photo wall of Lula and her family, friends and acquaintances. Why on earth this isn’t all electronic I don’t know, but her dedication to printing out photos of the funeral does at least make it easier to show the viewers who everyone is. Lula, her adopted brother John, their adoptive mother Lady Bristow and her brother/their uncle Tony, who works at the same law firm as John. Ciara Porter, Lula’s friend. Her boyfriend Evan and friend Deeby. Her boss and friend, designer Guy Somé (apparently it’s pronounced ‘Gi’, which while making sense is less amusing – I always mentally thought of him as literally being named ‘some guy’). And her neighbours Freddie and Tansy; he’s a movie producer and she is… a wife.

Strike’s impressed enough with Robin’s skills in putting Post-It notes on photos to ask her to come snoop around Lula’s building with him, which is nice. It also comes up in conversation that they both dropped out of university.

Robin tells us Deeby Macc had a crush on Lula and wrote a couple of songs about taking her from her boyfriend. This wasn’t in the book, but okay, sure. Derrick lets them in (John Bristow called to clear them) and explains how security works in the building, mentioning that Lula occasionally asked him not to let her boyfriend or her uncle in if they’d been fighting.

He shows them to Lula’s penthouse apartment; the floor underneath is vacant and Freddie and Tansy live on the one below that.

Robin notices Lula’s clothes and says it’s odd to get changed before killing yourself. Strike, busy photographing everything (why haven’t Lula’s family claimed her things by now? The inquest is over and the case is closed; in the book none of the other relatives agreed with John hiring an investigator) tells a story about someone he knew in the army committing suicide after throwing a party. Lula was reading a book about the political situation in Ghana, which I assume is going to be relevant later.

They go out onto the balcony and learn that the door locks automatically when closed, which seems silly to me, and is more or less totally soundproof. Strike asks Derrick about a few people and we hear more about Rochelle, who we’re told is gold-digging trash. Lovely.

The building has a swimming pool somewhere. I think in the basement? Tansy is conveniently there having a swim, which wasn’t in the book. Strike tells her who he is and questions her. She actually saw Lula fall but isn’t eager to answer questions, so Strike gives her his card and they leave; outside he tells Robin that Tansy was lying but refuses to explain how he knows when she asks. [Charming.]

Back at the office they watch a couple of Deeby’s videos, and some clips of Lula and friends on her friend and fellow model Ciara’s Youtube channel. I would have thought Instagram would be more likely but I know pretty much nothing about social media or the world of celebrity. Ciara (Amber Anderson) has a pug; Robin does not approve. I like Robin. Rochelle (Tezlym Senior-Sakutu) is implausibly in one of the videos; unlike her book self, she is not fat. Strike wonders if it’s her on the CCTV picture John gave him, then Tansy calls to set up a meeting with Strike later.

They’re supposed to meet at a fancy restaurant, which I vaguely remember from the book; Strike’s met by Lula’s uncle Tony (Martin Shaw), who is also Freddie and Tansy’s lawyer and has done a full background check on Strike. He says his nephew is delusional and that Lula committed suicide, and tells Strike to stay away from Tansy and her husband. Somehow Tony knows Strike needs money and throws in a nasty ableist comment about him being one step from showing his stump to beg on the street, before openly threatening him and namedropping his mother. Strike responds by threatening him in turn. This was not in the book. If I remember right, Strike met Tansy and one of her friends and they spent most of the time criticising everyone. Maybe that happens later.

Strike goes back to the office and ignores his phone as Charlotte leaves a tearful voicemail begging him to talk to her because she can’t cope and she needs him. This was also not in the book. Strike starts talking to his false leg again, asking it why he always takes it off before going to the bathroom, then pisses in an empty mug. Why. Just why is this here. He doesn’t make any attempt to clear it up or pour it away either, he’s just going to spend the rest of the night in a room smelling of piss. [Why is any of this here? Also, this juxtaposition is really… pleasant. I can only think the implication is that Charlotte is so pathetically desperate that this is the guy she’s begging to take her back, and we should hate her for that?]

Next morning he goes and takes a shower at the pool so we can all see his missing leg. Back at the office he stops Robin clearing away the cup of his piss, which he pours out of the window into the street instead… then goes out again to meet John Bristow in yet another café. Why do you even have an office. He has some questions. [Why is Robin still here after finding the cup of piss?] She apparently didn’t know what it was, just offered to clear away the cup because apparently she has no sense of smell. To be fair to her it’s pretty obviously fruit juice and if Strike were really peeing something that colour he should see a doctor.

John says Lula did have a computer, they wiped it and gave it away once the police were done with it. But didn’t touch anything else in her apartment. I don’t know. Yes, Lula and Tony argued, John argues with him too. He doesn’t know who Rochelle is, though Strike’s expression says he thinks this is a lie. I was losing interest in the book by this point so I forget how accurate this is.

Strike goes to a random hostel that he somehow knows is where Rochelle used to live. She’s not there any more. He limps outside and bribes a girl to distract the woman who works there – by screaming about a spider; that’s really the best they could come up with? – then breaks into the office to photograph Rochelle’s file. This wasn’t in the book either and anything he finds won’t be admissable as evidence since he obtained it illegally. Conveniently this girl (unnamed onscreen, credited as Carianne, played by Callie Cooke) knows Rochelle and agrees to pass a message on.

He meets Rochelle in yet another café – this is the fourth one, I believe – and sneers at her clothes before going to buy her some food, at which point she runs away because he stupidly claimed to be a friend of Lula and she realised he wasn’t as soon as she laid eyes on him (the implication is that this is because he’s not black, but Lula’s friend Ciara isn’t and I don’t think her boyfriend is either).  Strike can’t keep up but she’s apparently really stupid and stops running five seconds after he’s out of sight so he can hear her telling someone on the phone about him asking questions and demanding something, then she runs off properly. I’m pretty sure in the book she talks to him but doesn’t seem to know anything.

Back at the office, Robin manages to mimic the voice of someone she’s never met in order to get Rochelle’s current address somehow – I don’t know who she called. She gets Strike to fill out her timesheet and says it’s her last day; he wishes her luck and she suggests she comes back next week to work directly for him, cutting out the agency. I can’t remember whose idea this was in the book, but it’s pretty dumb of her since if the agency find out she’ll be off their books with no reference before she can blink.

Anyway, Strike agrees, and goes to see Rochelle. Sucks to be him, the lift is broken and he has to climb a hell of a lot of stairs inside a tower block that doesn’t look like any I’ve ever seen. There’s no answer and water coming from under her door, so he picks the lock; there’s water everywhere and she’s apparently drowned herself in near-scalding water. Nasty. Strike attempts CPR with all the force of a damp tissue, which unsurprisingly doesn’t work (if you do it properly you’ll probably break ribs). Then the episode ends.

I think in the book the police call him in to say she was found drowned with his business card in her pocket, but this is apparently more dramatic.

Next time it looks like we meet the other characters.

Thoughts so far: mixed feelings. Overall it’s definitely an improvement, but not as much as it could be. Sparing us the internal monologues is really the only benefit this has over the book, and a lot of this episode just didn’t need to be here.

We didn’t need anything about Charlotte at all, beyond maybe Robin asking why Strike’s sleeping in his office and him saying he’s just moved out of his ex’s place. Given the pointless vilification of her character in the books – where she has yet to ever appear onscreen or be remotely relevant to anything, but is still the worst villain who ever villained, because reasons – they were already on thin ice where this is concerned, and so far they’re not doing well.

We didn’t need Matthew’s scene.

We certainly didn’t need Strike’s urinary habits and I am really starting to wonder about Rowling’s obsession with it; the next book opens with him pissing in a doorway and yet they felt the need to create another scene in this one as well.

We didn’t need anything about Strike’s past – though I do like the way the information was given to us, it’s not relevant to anything and never will be, and we’re left knowing almost everything about him and absolutely nothing about Robin.

Most of the cast look younger than they should be, though Lula looked older. I’m not always great at judging ages so it might just be me, but it’s really hard to, for example, take a police detective seriously when he looks like a spotty teenager. Almost everyone has a plausible London accent so far, at least.

Too many of the actual plot details are being glossed over too quickly. It took three people saying it before I caught the plot point about Tansy changing her statement. How did they get Rochelle’s address? That was never explained, Robin just made a call to someone. Why haven’t they at least attempted to contact any of the other relevant people yet?

Most of the changes are very minor, and truthfully I don’t think any of them really added anything. There was nothing too objectionable though, piss fetishes aside.

Why is Strike being so trusting of a random temp? I don’t think he even bothered to check with the agency to make sure Robin is who she said she was, which given that he thought he’d cancelled their contract was pretty dumb. Though I do massively, massively approve of the complete lack of flirting. Neither of them are showing any interest in one another. Robin’s enjoying the job, which must be a lot more interesting than anything else she’s done as a temporary receptionist, and Strike’s learning that she’s not a brainless office girlie, and that’s it so far. Much better paced and more realistic than the book.

[The lack of flirting seems a bit weird to me in context, mainly because I would have thought the increased demonisation of Matthew was meant to make viewers root for her to leave him for Strike. But they could also be building to that later, I suppose, this is only part one of however long this bloody series is going to run.] So far, another two episodes of this, then two of Silkworm and I believe two of Career of Evil. No idea about the fourth book.

I think if they’d stripped out some of the filler and tidied up a few scenes we could have had a sensibly paced two-parter, which is hopefully what they’ve done for the other books. Oh well. We’ll see how part two goes by the end of the week, I hope.


Posted by on September 11, 2017 in loten


Tags: , , , , , , ,

2 responses to “Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling (BBC adaptation) Part One

  1. Sam

    September 12, 2017 at 11:03 pm

    It’s very brave of you to do this. Just reading the description of the cup scene was enough to make me shudder.

    It sounds smoother than the book, but I really, really don’t understand why they didn’t do something about the huge plot hole. Even if he believed he was being credibly blackmailed, why does that motivate the murderer to hire a PI? Doing so isn’t going to stop a credible blackmailer, and not doing so won’t magically give a blackmailer who’s lying credible evidence to show to the police. (I vaguely remember this had something to do with Lula’s will, but even so, surely you can hire a PI to find a missing will without telling him you think a suicide was actually a murder and getting yourself caught.)

    • Loten

      September 13, 2017 at 7:09 am

      Yes, Lula made a will leaving everything to her biological half-brother (though not her biological mother) instead of her adoptive relatives. Despite her having no way to find said brother because they share a father and her mother didn’t know who her father was and there’s no indication he ever knew he’d had another child.

      But the will was inexplicably hidden – I think it was in her adoptive mother’s closet or something else weird. Nobody apart from Bristow and Rochelle even knew it existed (apparently including a lawyer, for some reason, so it probably wasn’t legal anyway) until Strike started poking around. If Bristow had kept his mouth shut everything would have gone to his mother by default and later to him, since nobody would have listened to Rochelle (meaning he didn’t need to listen to her attempt to blackmail him either).

      I can’t remember if he ever tried to explain why he wanted someone to find the will that disinherited him, or why he needed money anyway since his mother has a title and he’s a well known London lawyer who can afford to throw a thousand pounds at Strike just to consider taking the case. It was all a stupid mess and I can’t imagine they’re going to salvage it here. I feel like Rowling wrote all but the last few pages of the story without having an ending, then decided the murderer should be the stupidest possible choice because that would be a good twist.

      Working on episode 2 today, anyway. Hopefully there won’t be any pee scenes in this one…


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