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Anyone out there who was worried that the adaptation of Iain Banks' supreme novel 'The Crow Road' was going to fall a bit short of the author's (and his fans) high standards need not have bothered. The BBC adaptation, broadcast some time ago now (1996, to be precise) gained rave reviews, and I plan to deviate in no way in my overview of the recently released DVD.
For those who are unfamiliar with the story, 'The Crow Road' is a complex and darkly comic look at an unconventional Scottish family in the 1980s. The McHoan family is, by no means, normal. A broad look at the family tree would show a half-hearted murderer, a missing uncle, a Commie atheist and a hero characterised with exeptional social realism, making him appear almost embarrassingly REAL at times (we've all had one of those self-pitying/drunken Prentice moments). The Crow Road allows we lucky viewers to briefly follow Prentice's attempts to find his long-lost uncle Rory as well as deal with his issues concerning death, which is a common entity in the McHoan family history.
Although on the surface the adaptation sticks faithfully to the plot of the novel, there are actually some important deviations. For one thing, the very absent uncle Rory makes regualr appearces, in which we see him propelling his hapless nephew towards the truth of his disappearance. Although such a move would have been a disaster in the book, it works extremely well on-screen. Fans of the book will, I think, appreciate such 'deviations' just as much as the recognisable segments lifted from the novel.
In terms of acting, the cast could almost be called flawless. Joseph McFadden as Prentice is absolutley wonderful, and we can all laugh at a much younger Dougray Scott playing older brother Lewis. The only fly in the ointment is the actress who portrays Ashley Watt, the girl-next-door figure of the story. Not only is actress Valerie Edmund quite noticably older than Joe McFadden (the characters are supposed to be the same age), but too often she sounds exactly as though she's reading a script, presenting her lines in a stilted, false sounding manner. This, however, is a minor flaw when put in context of the program as a whole. The rest of the cast is brilliant, especially Bill Patterson as Prentice's fiercely atheist father, meaning Edmund's performance falls into the background, allowing you to enjoy the rest of the acting.
In terms of DVD extras, there is admittedly not a great amount. The commentary for the 1st episode by Bryan Elsely, Bradley Adams and Gavin Millar is quite interesting, giving hardcore fans a good insight into the process of adapting the book into a screenplay. It may not be profound, but the commentary is definitely a decent extra feature. The approximate half-hour interview with Iain Banks is also entertaining, though probably only for fans who have read a couple of his novels. He only briefly discusses the adaptation of 'The Crow Road', meaning those who have only seen the screenplay without reading the novel might be a bit bored by the majority of the interview. As of yet I haven't found any easter eggs, not that I really thought I would. If I do, I will get back to you though.
To sum up; quite a good DVD!