Blightyvision: Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal

Based on the novel by Terry Pratchett
Adapted by Bev Doyle and Richard Kurti
Starring Richard Coyle, David Suchet, and Andrew Sachs
Directed by Jon Jones

I hate book adaptations.  I hate them.  The things that have been done to the series I like are utterly intolerable.  I never pass them on to friends anymore, and when I do watch them, it’s always between my fingers with the same sort of half-nauseated trepidation I adopt for anything that mentions The Human Centipede.

I do, however, love exceptions to rules, and to that end I adore the majority of things about Sky One and The Mob’s various Discworld adaptations.  Hogfather and The Colour of Magic (the latter to be addressed soon, the former being saved for a holiday treat), while not 100% accurate or preservative, were both fantastic, and while one can never adequately appreciate Pratchett’s narrative style without sitting down to read, the television versions get pretty much as close as is feasible.

While the first two centered on major recurring characters (Death and Rincewind, respectively), Going Postal takes a slightly less common character and gives him the spotlight for a bit.  Said character, the con artist Moist von Lipwig, begins his story by being hanged within an inch of his life and then rescued by Ankh-Morpork’s Patrician, the Machiavellian Lord Vetinari (played by Charles Dance stepping into the role). Moist (Richard Coyle of “Coupling” and “Strange”) is given two options: start life anew by becoming the city’s new postmaster, or walk out the door — which happens to have a bottomless pit on the other side.

True to form, Moist decides to manipulate his new job in his favor, inventing the Discworld’s first stamps with the intent of using them for his own monetary gain.  Assisting him unwittingly are the elderly Junior Postman Groat (Andrew Sachs, best known as Manuel of “Fawlty Towers”) and obsessed pin-collector Stanley (played amusingly by a frantic Ian Bonar).  Unfortunately for our hero, he is thwarted on two sides.

On one side is the melodramatically wicked Reacher Gilt, played by David Suchet (TV’s Poirot).  Gilt is the current owner of the clacks, a sort of Internet/semaphore hybrid, who has had no direct competition as a businessman while the post office has been left distended.  With Moist in the picture, Gilt kicks his villainy all the way up to 11, attempting to frighten Moist off with ever-escalating threats.

On the other are the post office’s undelivered letters, which have begun to haunt Moist in his sleep, showing him images of how his past “petty” crimes have affected hundreds of complete strangers.  Worst of all is seeing what he has done unwittingly to Adora Belle Dearheart (“Little Dorritt”‘s Claire Foy with bitch boots and a riding crop), the chain-smoking Golem Rights activist to whom he’s lost his heart.  With guilt (and Gilt) weighing down heavily on him from all sides, Moist finds himself battling with his natural tendency towards trickery and his newly-acquired conscience.

Having read the original book, I can see that several of the more interesting aspects (including a very cool cat) were omitted from the adaptation.  The omissions, however, didn’t detract from my enjoyment any more than the occasional “Aw, I sorta miss that.”  With Pratchett himself mucking about the scripts after the initial adaptation, things stayed firmly in line, to the point that I am more than happy to show it to someone entirely unfamiliar with Discworld.

The performances overall were grand, and for the most part notched nicely into the fannish mental image of the characters.  Coyle was a surprising choice (the books describe Moist as physically unremarkable, and before casting I was having a hard time trying to figure out a British name actor who could fit that), but as usual it’s nice to see him carrying on a career without ever being stuck back in a Jeff-ish role.  Sachs was a brilliant move, as was Suchet — speaking of playing entirely against type.

The actor under the most fire was, without a doubt, Charles Dance.  Jeremy Irons played Vetinari in The Colour of Magic and was agreed by all and sundry to be a perfect choice.  Why he didn’t come back is a mystery to me, but I don’t think Dance warranted the flack he got for a) not having black hair and 3) not being Jeremy Irons.  To my mind, he fits the books’ descriptions of a “predatory flamingo” far better than Irons, and plays his own version of the character admirably.

As always, it’s a bit hard for me to say if a non-fan can approach something like this comfortably, as I am most definitely not a non-fan.  However, as with previous Discworld adaptations, this appears to be kept relatively approachable, with the setting explaining itself through immersion rather than exposition.  The production quality is high for a television series, with almost all the creature effects being handled with (well done) costume and makeup.  Though, as with all Pratchett’s works, it does take a dark bent about halfway through — not that this is a negative point, but some viewers looking for mind-fluff and thinking “funny” equals “brainless” might find themselves disappointed.  But for fans and people looking for a story, it’s an excellent evening of viewing …

… because, yeah, it’s sort of a two part miniseries so it’s a bit on the long side.  I’d put the kettle on.

“Going Postal” does not yet have a Region 1 release, but judging by previous Discworld specials it should before long — stripped bare of all its glorious extras, naturally.