Was the book better? Maybe
Like any cop in detective series these days, Borlú is fighting his personal demons
“T he book was better” is a comment loved by book snobs the world over. And to be fair, often the book is better — unless the book is so bad that the film couldn’t possibly be any worse (hello, Fifty Shades …).
Well, here’s a chance for the inevitable “the book was better” claims: sci-fi and weird fiction author China Miéville is the latest writer to have his magnificent work adapted for the screen with ITV Choice’s The City and the City.
The four-part miniseries is based on Miéville’s acclaimed and rightfully awardwinning 2009 novel of the same name. Miéville is the kind of author who has a massive cult following (I am a huge fan). Having won multiple prestigious sci-fi writing prizes, including the Locus Award (four times), the Arthur C Clarke Award (three times) and the British Fantasy Award (twice), it takes a brave and formidable team to even attempt to adapt his often complex works into something uncluttered for a TV or movie screen.
The team behind ITV’s The City and the City adaptation is impressive: the screenplay is written by Tony Grisoni (one of the writers behind the decadent 2016 series The Young Pope starring Jude Law) and is directed by Bafta nominee Tom Shankland (The Missing, House of Cards). And on the strength of the first episode, it’s safe to say that the series is just as intriguing as its source material.
Some background: the title refers to two fictional cities (the shady, working-class Beszel and its cleaner, well-heeled neighbour Ul Qoma) that are treated as completely separate worlds (different laws, different languages etc). While there is no physical wall separating the two cities, there is a mental wall that citizens of each city are forced to employ — if you so much as think about the other city, an allseeing military organisation called Breach will come for you.
The story picks up with Inspector Tyador Borlú of Beszel’s Extreme Crime Squad being called to a murder scene. Cue the now-tired dead girl TV trope. The young woman — initially mistaken for a prostitute — turns out to be American student Mahalia Geary, who lived in Ul Qoma, but has ended up dead in Beszel.
Like any cop in detective series or books these days, Borlú (played by David Morrissey, The Walking Dead, The Missing) is fighting his personal demons and is haunted by his past. These demons, as you can guess, threaten Borlú’s ability to solve the murder.
After all, what’s so interesting about a police investigator without major personal issues that could jeopardise a case, right?
(By the way, the personal aspect of Borlú wasn’t part of the book and neither was his missing wife, Katrynia. Another interesting deviation from the book is that Borlú’s Ul Qoma counterpart is a woman, when the character was originally a man).
Helping Borlú on the case is the less jaded and very sharp Constable Lizbyet Corwi (played by Mandeep Dhillon, Doctor Who).
But The City and the City is about more than just a murder — it also weaves in the themes of politics and corporate greed.
There’s an Orwellian and Kafkaesque feel to the series (and book), as well as flashes of Scandi noir. The series is dark both in terms of subject matter and its cinematography.
It was filmed in Liverpool and Manchester, which works out pretty well even though the setting sounds more like somewhere in the Balkans in the ’80s or Scandinavia (the book never specifies where these two cities are, just that they are somewhere in Europe).
So, is the book better? Yes, indeed — but of course it would be because Miéville’s writing is excellent (though his work can be dense). But even if you have no plans to read this book in particular, you’re bound to enjoy the series.
If you loved shows such as The Killing, The Bridge and even Top of the Lake, add this to your (no doubt very long) “to watch” list. ●
David Morrissey plays Inspector Tyador Borlú in ‘The City and the City’, a miniseries based on a novel by China Miéville.