With the publication of the novel Exit Music, author Ian Rankin brought the career of Detective Inspector Rebus (DI) to a close. Since 1985 he had patrolled the streets of Edinburgh, Scotland and its surrounding environs dealing with everything from organized crime, corrupt politicians and cops, serial killers, and drug dealers. After twenty odd – some would say very odd – years on the force and twenty books that followed his exploits, he certainly can be forgiven for taking his retirement. Yet, I know I'm not alone when I say I will miss him.
One of the things that made DI John Rebus such an appealing character was how human he was. He came with his own collection of flaws, a failed marriage, an obsession with popular music, and a past that was hidden in the shadows of Britain's Official Secrets Act from his days serving in the Special Armed Services (S.A.S). Throughout the series there were many times that Rankin forced Rebus to look in the mirror and examine himself, and as often as not, it wasn't the prettiest of pictures.
In the books featuring John Rebus, and the various police officers he worked with and the criminals he contested with for control of the streets of his city, Ian Rankin not only created a memorable lead character, he brought a world to life. While the Detective Inspector was the focal point around which all the novels revolved, the city of Edinburgh was always intriguing, and often times as complex as Rebus himself. It was just as much a recurring character as Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke, and developed nearly as fully.
The British Broadcasting Corporation's (BBC) initial attempt at adapting Rankin's books to television starred John Hannah as DI Rebus. While Hannah is a wonderful actor, his performance as DI Rebus lacked a certain authenticity. The shows might have been faithful adaptations of the novels, but they were missing the full weight of John Rebus' character. In the second go round instead of worrying as much about being faithful to the books being adapted, the series has focused more on the character of Rebus, and the atmosphere generated by contrasting the physical beauty of Edinburgh with the gritty reality of what lies beneath the surface of the picture post-card scenery.
As can be seen by watching the episodes included in the box set of four DVDs Rebus: Set 3 being distributed by Acorn Media, the decision to cast Ken Stott as DI John Rebus continues to look like a stroke of genius. Not only does he look the part far more than Hannah did, his characterization is so strong that the shows can't help but make him their focal point. No matter what crime has been committed, or what other characters do, it's around him that everything circles like planets around a galaxy's sun.
Part of that is the way that the scripts have been written so that Rebus' actions, once the crime has been committed and the investigation started, are the catalyst for everything that occurs in the rest of the episode. Yet, you have the feeling that the script writers aren't creating the scenarios that develop the character of Rebus, but are taking advantage of what Stott has created. He has given them a character of such presence that he only has to appear in the periphery of a shot and he becomes a viewer's focal point.
What makes this performance so astounding is Stott's ability to communicate a lot while doing very little. Sitting at a table in the local, reading a paper, smoking a cigarette with a pint sitting within easy reach, he is the epitome of relaxation. Something catches his eye on the page that he is reading and you can literally see a shadow crossing his face and the sense of ease seeping out of his body. The face closes down, his body draws in on itself, and the pint is drawn in to nestle within the shelter of his arms. It's as if he is pulling himself into an armoured shell from which he can take on all that the world will send against him.
This is the John Rebus who lived in the pages of Ian Rankin's books. Even if the four episodes contained in Rebus: Set 3 — "Resurrection Men", "The First Stone", "The Naming Of The Dead", and "Knots And Crosses" — range from loose adaptations to having almost nothing to do with the books of the same titles, it does nothing to deflect from us believing that we are seeing John Rebus. Of course it doesn't hurt that the people playing the secondary characters, especially Claire Price as DS Siobhan Clarke, are every bit as plausible in their performances.
Ms. Price has, over the course of the three seasons, steadily increased her character's confidence in her abilities and shed any number of illusions she may have had about her work. In Rebus: Set 3 she does an admirable job of displaying both the respect and admiration she feels for Rebus, as well as how much he pisses her off, and the hurt she feels when he takes her for granted. At times her faith in him is sorely tested, and she wonders why she puts her own career at risk for his sake. Ms. Price plays DS Clarke with a calm and cool assurance that acts as a nice balance to the heat of Stott's Rebus. It's not enough to extinguish his fire, of course, but at least it prevents her from being singed too badly.
It's not often that cinematography in a television show makes that much of a difference, but it's the camera work in this show that establishes the character of Edinburgh. In distance shots she looks regal, with her castles on the high ground, and the hills and water surrounding her. Yet when it's time for her close=ups, and we zero in on a crime scene, we see the dirt and the poverty. From the counsel flats (public housing projects) and their constant state of disrepair to the fetid alleys in rundown neighbourhoods, she doesn't bear well under close scrutiny. Like in Rankin's books, the city may look genteel, but beneath the surface she's just like any other big city.
Rebus: Set 3 proves that you don't need to have faithful adaptations of the original material to bring the world of a novel to life on the television screen. Ken Stott's performance of Ian Rankin's famous Detective Inspector from Edinburgh will ensure that John Rebus will continue to live on even though no more novels are forthcoming. If you are a fan of the books you can't help but be a fan of these televised adaptations.