One of the hardest things to do in the arts is to take something from one medium to another. From book to film, theatre, or television is the most common transfer but still the one most fraught with difficulties. The adaptations and changes that scriptwriters and directors are forced into by time and other constraints are always going to be stumbling blocks no matter what the circumstances.
Instead of being able to describe what you want the audience to see and tell them what you want them to know, you have to rely on what you can create visually with the camera and the skill of the actors. No matter how many times you shoot a scene, and how many different ways an actor reads the same line, they could still very well not get it right and you're left without getting the same feel as the original narrative.
Sometimes, as in the case of Peter Jackson and his version of The Lord Of The Rings everything comes together to create a stunning adaptation of the original for the screen. In other instances, the first two Harry Potter movies for instance, the films may have stayed with the plot, but seemed to lose some of the essence and magic of Harry's world. Of course I'm sure others would disagree with both of my assessments and have their own ideas on how the movies should have been made.
But whenever a director and crew are dealing with a character or story that has a huge following they will be faced with massive amounts of back seat directing. What's probably even worse is if someone has already taken a stab at producing the stories and had some success. That's exactly what faced those involved with producing the most recent series based on the character created by Ian Rankin, Detective Inspector (D.I.) John Rebus.
Now nineteen books into a series that started in 1985 when Ian Rankin was still a student, the character of D.I. John Rebus has become one of the most popular figures in modern crime fiction. The books themselves are a wonderful mixture of gritty realism and human interest as the audience has been introduced to John Rebus, the work he does, and the mess he has made of his personal life.
So what can a director and screenwriter do when faced with the prospect of bringing an almost iconic figure to television and fitting close to three hundred pages of story into sixty to seventy minutes of screen time? Well judging by the four episodes contained in Rebus 2, available from Acorn Media, they've come up with a great solution.
In order to simplify matters they have taken stories from throughout D.I. Rebus's case history and set them all in the same time period. This has allowed them to focus on his interpersonal relationships with the two characters in the books from the police who have featured prominently; Detective Chief Superintendent Gilles Templer, a former girl friend of Rebus's, and Detective Siobhan Clarke, his junior partner.
By doing this they have been able to ensure that they have created an atmosphere where they can allow an actor of skill to bring John Rebus to life, and thus make the books come to life. For after all, without the character of John Rebus these books wouldn't be all that special and without an actor who can embody those traits that have endeared Rebus to his legion of fans (and exasperated them as well), the show would be a flop.
In rumpled, intense, and tough Ken Stott the people behind this production have found a perfect actor for the role. Watching him on screen performing I can't imagine anyone else playing the character. His face is that of a man who has seen all the horrors that one human can do to another, but it hasn't jaded him.
In one telling line in the episode "The Black Book" he says to a police psychologist he has been ordered to see that what he does is not a job, but a vocation. His calling is rectifying the injustice he sees behind most crime. Someone has been victimized and it's his duty to correct the imbalance that caused that injustice.
Stott's performance is nothing short of brilliant in that he is able to personify that absolute dedication and idealism without resorting to anything more than his characterization. Watching his Rebus carry out an investigation with the tenacity of a bulldog, seeing the look of grim determination as he goes to a murder scene for the first time, serves notice that he will find who is responsible no matter how long it takes, or whose toes he has to step on in the process.
The two women cast opposite him, Claire Price as Detective Sergeant Clarke and Jennifer Black as Templer, are able to play the foils to Rebus and at the same time create characters who are interesting in their own right. Chief Superintendent Templer is in the unenviable position of being a woman in a man's world, where the pressure is on her to succeed as a police officer, and also to prove that a woman is as capable as a man as a top cop. So when Rebus flies by his own set of rules she has further complications always in the back of her head when she has to decide on how to keep him on the leash.
Clarke as Rebus's junior knows that he gets results and his instincts are amazing, but what will someone like him do to her career ambitions? Will being associated with Rebus hold her back due to his insubordination, or will their high rate of success be enough of a mitigating factor to boost her chances of promotion?
Included on the disc that contains the episode "Let It Bleed" is a documentary feature on the making of this series, a nice history of the books, and a look at the previous attempt at filming them. There is a really good interview with author Ian Rankin where he admits that he's not really watched either of attempts for the simple reason that he doesn't want to have his version of Rebus affected by what an actor does.
Judging by the four episodes that were included in the box set Rebus 2, watching Ken Stott portray Rebus wouldn't do anything to change Mr. Rankin's vision of his character. This show captures the essence of D.I. Rebus and brings the books to life on television as well as anybody has ever adapted any book for film, stage, or small screen.