Was the book bet­ter? Maybe

Sunday Times - - Contents - The City and the City starts on ITV Choice (DStv 123) on July 17 at 8pm.

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. ●

Pic­ture: Sup­plied

David Mor­ris­sey plays In­spec­tor Tyador Borlú in ‘The City and the City’, a minis­eries based on a novel by China Miéville.

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