JK Rowling Casual Vacancy story ‘too grim for BBC’

JK Rowling's Casual Vacancy had the ending changed by the BBC. Picture: Jane Barlow
JK Rowling's Casual Vacancy had the ending changed by the BBC. Picture: Jane Barlow
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THE BBC made up their own ending to a JK Rowling novel after decided the final scenes were “too grim” to appear on Sunday night television.

The Casual Vacancy, published in 2012, was one of the most hotly anticipated novels of recent times, took five years to write, and became an instant bestseller.

However, it appears that the ending of Rowling’s first foray into adult literature has proved too adult for television.

It has now been revealed that the BBC rewrote the final scenes of the novel, after screenwriters decided they had to be toned down for a Sunday night audience.

Despite that, Rowling has insisted she is “delighted” with the corporation’s version of her novel..

The novel follows the fate of Krystal Weedon, a teenager blighted with a drug-addict mother and left in sole charge of her toddler brother.

Former EastEnder scriptwriter Sarah Phelps, who adapted the book for the small screen, said she had told the Harry Potter author “very straight” that the ending needed to change.

The three-part drama will now include “some kind of redemptive moment” towards the end, to keep audiences happy.

Phelps said: “I was very straight with Jo and told her that I needed to write a different ending. It’s still heartbreaking, but I had to find some kind of redemptive moment at the end of it all - a sense that after the tragedy someone gets to stand with a slightly straighter back.”

She added: “Also, what works in a novel doesn’t always work on screen. Nobody wants a finger wagged in their face, and I learnt on EastEnders that if you just go ‘grim, grim, grim’, viewers will simply disengage.

“If you’ve invested three hours of your leisure time to watch a show and get involved, there’s got to be reward. You’ve got to think that it was worth it and that the characters aren’t just a pack of s---s. They’ve got to be a little bit funny, a little bit understandable.”

Phelps began her career at the BBC as part of a talent search for new writers, going on to write around 50 episodes of EastEnders. She has previously worked on adaptations of Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, and travelled to Edinburgh to meet Rowling “writer to writer”.

“I told her what I thought the book was about, which characters really leapt out at me, and how I might shape the series, and she just said, ‘Great. That’s your job.’

“I suppose, having seen Harry Potter adapted, she must be used to it, but it still meant a lot that she trusted me just to get on with it.”

Rowling herself has already hailed the final version, saying: “Sarah Phelps is a writer at the top of her game. Having met her, and discussed the television adaptation of The Casual Vacancy, I was happy and confident to hand over the job of crafting my novel for the small screen.

“Sarah has done a great job and I am delighted with how it has turned out.”

The novel, set in Pagford, a fictional West Country village, explores poverty, deprivation, drug addiction, child neglect, domestic abuse and a middle class turning a blind eye. Its teenage protagonist must cope with a drug-addled mother and the demands of looking after her infant brother.

The first part of the drama, starring Michael Gambon, Julia McKenzie, Keeley Hawes and Rory Kinnear, will be shown on BBC One on Sunday at 9pm.