Adapting any book, or series of books, to either film or television is a tricky proposition as those involved have to decide how to best recreate the author's vision on screen. This usually involves paring the original story down to its bare essentials, and finding a way to visually represent intellectual concepts. This job only increases in difficulty the more popular the original title, as the audience is going to have expectations about what will appear on their screens which the show's creators will have to live up to if they hope to cash in on the success of the books.
It's debatable which is the most delicate when it comes to making an adaptation — ensuring the story adheres to the original as closely as possible, or, bringing much beloved characters to life on the screen. On the one hand if the story deviates too much from the way the author wrote it, audiences will leave the theatre feeling let down. However, if the characters they see on screen don't at least bear some resemblance to what the audience expects them to be like, you can pretty much kiss good-bye any sort of success with a project, especially if it's an extended television adaptation that will air over a series of evenings.
Reginald Hill's series of police procedural novels featuring the characters Detective Superintendent (DS) Andy Dalziel and Detective Inspector (DI) Peter Pascoe have been international best sellers almost since he published the first book, A Clubbable Woman. The two lead characters, their associates in the fictional Mid-Yorkshire Criminal Investigation Division (CID), and the civilians they associate with, have left indelible impressions on all who have read them, with DS Dalziel in particular being nearly literally larger than life. Those who made the decision back in 1996 to begin adapting the books for television faced the very difficult task of not only bringing to life stories that people were exceedingly familiar with, but ensuring the beloved characters were presented just right.
Judging by the three episodes that made up the show's first season that have just been released as the DVD package Dalziel & Pascoe Season 1 by BBC America, not only did they succeed in retelling the stories, through a combination of skilled casting and well written scripts, they brought the two leads to life perfectly. Both Warren Clarke as DS Andy Dalziel and Colin Buchanan as DI Peter Pascoe manage to not only recreate their own characters, but have done an excellent job showing the beginnings of their professional and personal relationship.
The three episodes in season one, "A Clubbable Woman," "An Advancement Of Learning," and "An Autumn Shroud," all take place early in Pascoe's career with the Mid-Yorkshire CID. In fact, in the first episode it appears that he has not only just joined the force, but is also new to the area, as his boss spends a good deal of time filling him in about the locals and their stories. Pascoe and Dalziel are the proverbial "chalk and cheese," as the younger man is a university graduate with a degree in sociology while Dalziel is an old school copper who takes great pride in being referred to as "that bastard" and pleasure in announcing that he "scratches his balls in public and farts louder than is naturally necessary." However, as they discover to their mutual surprise, they work well together. It seems the combination of a bull in a china shop and polite intelligence is a very effective rendition of the good cop/bad cop routine.
Over the years Reginald Hill's mysteries featuring these two gentlemen have evolved to the point where the case they are attempting to solve almost serves as the backdrop for exploring a variety of themes and sociological situations. While these three earlier works were far more straightforward, the people responsible for creating the adaptations have still managed to capture those elements that even then separated Hill's work from others. None of the cases are the usual straightforward whodunits with a "bad guy" and an innocent victim, nor are the solutions ever completely cut and dried. Certainly somebody is always arrested in the end, but what their ultimate fate will be is another matter altogether as there always seem to be mitigating circumstances that are sure to play a factor in their trial and sentencing.
With each episode being nearly 90 minutes in length there is plenty of time to not only develop the plot slowly, but events proceed at what seems a far more natural pace than we usually see in police procedurals. Not only are the cases given plenty of time to develop, but equal time is given for character development for both our erstwhile protagonists and the other characters featured in that particular episode. Over the course of these first three episodes, and in particular episode three, "An Autumn Shroud," special attention is paid to the character of Dalziel. Early on we learn that his wife left him years ago for another man, and although on the surface it doesn't appear as if he cares all that much, we are given glimpses beneath the rough exterior and something of the loneliness that he feels.
Needless to say the acting throughout, the leads, the secondary characters, and the special guests who only appear in individual episodes, is exemplary throughout. As usual part of the fun in watching an older British television show, and this one dates from 1996, is seeing familiar faces and trying to figure out what you might have seen them in since. However, no matter how strong the work of those in secondary roles, the series still rests on the broad shoulders of Warren Clarke as Dalziel, and he does a magnificent job in bringing "Fat Andy" to life. He brings just the right mix of bluster, belligerence, and arrogance to the role in the first two episodes to make it obvious it's not an act, while at the same time showing a natural intelligence and awareness that make his more introspective moments in episode three seem unforced and natural.
At this stage in the series Dalziel is the catalyst 'round which everyone else revolves, and the other characters' performances are still based primarily on reacting to their boss. Colin Buchanan's Peter Pascoe has caught just the right note of wry affection warring with impatience at his boss's pigheadedness. He does give us the occasional glimpse of his own intelligence, but at the moment his light is still being hidden by the rather large shadow cast by superior. All of which would be consistent for a person who has only just started working in a new situation for somebody as unique as Superintendent Dalziel.
It's not often that favourite books survive the transition from page to either small or large screen completely unscathed, and maybe there will be those who will be able to find fault with how well Reginald Hill's beloved characters have made that journey, but I'm not one of them. Not only have the episodes in Dalziel & Pascoe Season 1 succeeded in telling the stories with the same intelligence as the author, they have captured the spirit of the books as well. While the DVD package is straightforward with no special features, and the sound is basic stereo as befits the age of the original programming, the quality of the material is so superior that I doubt anyone who liked the books will walk away disappointed.