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When news first broke about a televised adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, her first post-Harry Potter best-seller, it seemed like networks would be lining up in droves to get behind what would assuredly be a ratings bonanza. Yet an entire year-and-a-half passed by without any confirmed takers. The wait ended today, as HBO and the BBC have teamed up with Rowling to turn her 2012 novel into a three-hour miniseries to be aired at an undisclosed date. There’s a joke to be made about a vacancy on HBO’s schedule being casually taken by this miniseries, but it’s not up to Rowling’s standards.
According to THR, the adaptation is being scripted by Sarah Phelps, best known for writing several seasons of the British soap opera EastEnders as well as literary miniseries like Great Expectations and the upcoming And Then There Were None adaptation. The Casual Vacancy will be directed by Jonny Campbell, most notable for his 2006 sci-fi comedy Alien Autopsy and for directing all three first season episodes of the zombie rehabilitation drama In the Flesh. Rowling herself will be executive producing with her producer partner and literary agent Neil Blair, while Ruth Kenley-Letts (The Hour) will produce.
Given just how many HBO series over the years owe their success to a memorable location, The Casual Vacancy should fit in nicely with its central village setting of Pagford, an idyllic area whose history and quaintness are balanced only by its citizens’ duplicitous nature. After the untimely death of a Parish Councilor, the village’s population turns on itself on the road to the next election. What may have started as politically-minded turmoil soon takes a terrible toll as everyone’s secrets soon become public knowledge. Slightly comic even in all of its drama, The Casual Vacancy is also HBO-friendly in that it features a huge cast of interesting characters.
HBO has arguably reclaimed its place at the head of the cable network food chain, with series like Game of Thrones and True Detective bringing in big ratings (when they weren’t crashing the HBOGo website), and it has a darkly bright future with upcoming series like Damon Lindelof’s The Leftovers and the miniseries Criminal Justice, for which John Turturro recently replaced Robert De Niro. I bet the network would trade this miniseries in to somehow get in on Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts trilogy that’s coming to theaters at some point.
Production on The Casual Vacancy will begin this summer in South West England, so expect to hear a slew of casting news over the next couple of months. And if you’re interested in hearing more about this novel from the author herself, check out the conversation and Q&A session Rowling gave at the Southbank Centre last year.