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The joint BBC-HBO production The Casual Vacancy is a gritty miniseries based on the eponymous novel by Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling. The series revolves around the small and seemingly idyllic English town Pagford, where tensions rise under the pretty fa├žade over Sweetlove House, an old family estate turned community centre. Although the miniseries features some great performances, most notably by newcomer Abigail Lawrie, shoehorning this novel into three hours of television has resulted in spectacularly underdeveloped characters, most of whom are not much more than stereotypes.

The Casual Vacancy stars Michael Gambon (Harry Potter‘s Dumbledore) as conniving deli owner and leader of the parish council Howard Mollison. Mollison and his wife Shirley (Julia McKenzie, Agatha Christie’s Marple) are intent on selling Sweetlove House to developers, who are looking to turn the estate into a luxury spa facility. Barry Fairbrother (Rory Kinnear, James Bond franchise) represents the other fraction in the city council, one that is more committed to the nearby housing estate The Fields. Selling Sweetlove House would mean closing the methadone clinic and food bank, leaving many of their visitors from The Fields empty-handed.

The more distinguished villagers of Pagford, of course headed by Howard Mollison, feel that they are much better than the people from The Fields, and want to hand over responsibility for the housing estate to a nearby town. Just weeks before the final vote in the evenly split parish council, Fairbrother suffers a heart attack and dies, leaving a casual vacancy(!) on the council. This broadens the conflict to the entire town, as the newly elected representative will cast the deciding vote.

All politics aside, the young Abigail Lawrie can be considered the breakout star of The Casual Vacancy. She gives The Fields a face in Krystal Weedon, the recalcitrant daughter of a drug addict mother. Since her mother does not do much more than switching between taking heroin and methadone, Krystal is, apart from attending school, also responsible for earning the family a living and for taking care of her little brother Robbie. As can be expected from a girl her age growing up in such a broken home, she does not always handle this too well.

Despite her struggles and shortcomings, Krystal is one of the few multi-layered characters on the show, and the only one that deserves a little sympathy. As is often the case with people growing up in a family like Krystal’s, though, the show does not have a very happy ending in store for her (which is as a matter of fact different from the ending in the novel).

The Casual Vacancy is a not-so-subtle social commentary, which makes it somewhat disturbing to watch. It could have been much more than it is now however, were it given more time to develop more of its characters. Nevertheless, although it does have its faults, there are some aspects that make The Casual Vacancy very watchable.

The Casual Vacancy is a miniseries that concluded its run after 3 episodes.

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