A new drama series based on a local writer’s books mixes satire with thriller and a touch of Scandi noir.
The only ones that spring to mind are An Angel at My Table, Jane Campion’s adaptation of Janet Frame’s autobiography that first screened on TV, and children’s series such as Kaitangata Twitch (from a Margaret Mahy story), Under the Mountain (Maurice Gee) and Terry and the Gunrunners (Bob Kerr and Stephen Ballantyne).
Perhaps if The Bad Seed (TVNZ 1, Sunday-Thursday, 8.30pm) goes well, we’ll be seeing more (notwithstanding the BBC adaptation of Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries). The five-part series, which TVNZ is ambitiously screening over five nights, is adapted from two novels by Charlotte Grimshaw, The Night Book and Soon.
She created the character Simon Lampton, an obstetrician, for her short-story collections Opportunity and Singularity, but expanded on him in two subsequent novels, published in 2010 and 2012. They’re part political satire, part thriller, part psychological drama and part examination of a certain echelon of society.
As with the novels, the TV series is about a connection between two families: the Lamptons (Simon, wife Karen and their two daughters) and David and Roza Hallwright, who are about to become New Zealand’s first couple. Simon (Matt Minto) and Karen (Jodie Hillock) come into the Hallwrights’ orbit when Karen fundraises for the party.
To ramp up the tension further, the series, co-written by Sarah-Kate Lynch, Joss King and Michael Beran, also adds a crime element. There is a rather gruesome murder in the first minute and it’s not long before DS Marie Da Silva (an uncharacteristically serious Madeleine Sami) is making connections between Simon and the dead woman, a former patient.
It doesn’t help that Simon can’t seem to get his story straight and he and his brother, Ford (Dean O’Gorman), appear to be colluding on an alibi.
It’s all dark secrets behind the picket fences (or, in this case, Herne Bay mansions) and the series has a Scandi noir feel. Chelsie Preston Crayford is one bright light in the darkness as Roza Hallwright, resisting the attentions of her husband’s spin doctors and constantly being caught out on social media. However, there are secrets there, too.
“I love the idea of having local drama, local television,” Grimshaw told RNZ National last year. Bring it on; there are any number of Kiwi novels worth adapting.
This article was first published in the April 13, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.