Case Histories: Bringing Jackson Brodie to the screen

Friday 10 June 2011, 11:03

Ashley Pharoah Ashley Pharoah Writer

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I had just finished filming Ashes To Ashes when Ruby Films sent me the novel Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, with a view to adapting it as the first two-parter in a new series for BBC One.

To be honest, I was so knackered I didn't really feel like throwing myself into creating another series.

But it's such a brilliant novel and Jackson Brodie, the central protagonist, is such a wonderful, complex, beguiling character that I couldn't say no.

For those of you who haven't read the Jackson Brodie novels (what sort of people are you?), they are unconventional thrillers, existing in an exhilarating hinterland between genre and art. And they are unputdownable.

As a screenwriter you're always looking for challenges, something to pull you out of your comfort zone, and it quickly became clear that I'd taken on a massive job.

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Every other person I mentioned the book to adored it, especially women, and had very strong feelings about who should play Jackson Brodie and what the series should look like.

No pressure, then.

But first I had to meet Kate Atkinson.

I've adapted Tom Brown's Schooldays and Under The Greenwood Tree in the past, but those novelists were safely dead and not waiting for me in their house in Edinburgh.

Nobody was as crass to mention it, of course, but this was sort of an audition for me.

As I knocked on Kate's front door and marshalled my thoughts I realised this is how actors must feel a lot of the time.

Note to self - be nicer to actors.

So Kate and I strolled around Edinburgh in the rain, talking about her characters, where they might live and eat and drink.

Case Histories is actually set in Cambridge but, as we were adapting three of the books and they're each set in a different place, it was clearly going to be necessary for us to decide on one city and try to make it a character in its own right.

I plumped for Edinburgh, not because Kate lived there, but because it has such a wonderful Gothic presence that I felt would fit perfectly with Kate's form of skewed realism.

I loved writing the scripts. The heavy-lifting had already been done by Kate - the characters, the story, the tone - so my job was to smash up the novel and re-imagine it as a screenplay. A fresh mosaic.

I decided to curve one story over two episodes, to give each two-parter a strong structure, and then largely play out separate self-contained stories in each episode.

It meant that the films wouldn't have the relentless, restless narrative that you often get on TV in this genre, but could meander through murder to domesticity, from comedy to tragedy.

Jason Issacs as Jackson Brodie and Marion Bailey as Gloria Hatter in episode four of case histories.

Jason Isaacs as Jackson Brodie and Marion Bailey as Gloria Hatter

The books always struck me for their very grown-up sense of sexuality and disappointed hope.

The structure gave us the chance to do justice to that - to sometimes sit back off the main thrust of the story and explore Jackson's life and past a bit.

It's always a privilege to spend time with other writers' characters and works, living or dead. It's not for the faint-hearted.

I know there are armies of Atkinson fans out there who have their own utterly perfect version of Jackson Brodie in their heads, and who will curse me for fiddling with perfection.

But what joy, to take tea with one of our finest living novelists in a damp cafe in Edinburgh and talk about writing. What could be better? A beer with Thomas Hardy?

Ashley Pharoah is the scriptwriter of episodes one and two of Case Histories.

Case Histories continues on Sunday, 12 June at 9pm on BBC One and BBC One HD and at 11.15pm on BBC HD.

For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I loved Jason Isaacs as Jackson Brodie but thought he could have done with a few grey hairs. "My" Jackson is a bit more weather worn! Julia and her sisters were perfectly cast and the programme was REALLY GOOD!! Thank you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    What video cameras where used to film this?

    The quality of the cinematography is excellent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Watched case histories so far and found it entertaining the one thing that slghtly irks me is Jacksons daughter Marley who is supposed to be from Edinburgh but has a very strong west of Scotland (Glaswiegan) accent and her speech was very difficult to comprehend especially for us down south this maybe something the continuity department may take in hand if anymore episodes are made.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    please can you tell me the singer and writer of the song featured at the beginning and end of episode 3 please? (Really enjoying show.)

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Started watching the series yesterday evening and found the story very difficult to follow due to the poor sound quality. The actors' voices were poorly recorded to the point of frequently being muffled and indistinct. To make matters worse the background music was too dominant.
    I am hard of hearing but my wife, who isn't, experienced the same problem. We found ourselves wishing that sub-titles had been added.
    Apart from this (major) complaint, we are enjoying the show and are intrigued enough by the brilliant storyline to continue watching.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Love the books. Have just finished readin 'started early took my dog' which is another master piece from Atkinson. Was dubious about case histories and adaptation for TV but it has worked brilliantly. Excellent all round. Jason Issacs a great Jackson Brodie and filing in Edinbugrh first class. Really good show so far. Thought it might not show last night cause of the silly F1 but thankfully the Beeb had enough sense to move it BBC2. Finally some great TV. More of this BBC please!! Oh and get rid of that dancing rubbish!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    The sound quality is lousy not helped by Isaacs mumbling Yorkshire dialect. How anyone in Edinburgh would understand him is the real mystery

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    An excellent show well done the BBC, bringing these brilliant books to life. Jason Isaacs making a great Jackson Brodie so far. More of this please

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Great show with a great cast, pure entertainment and the music is superb the sound track should be released at the end of the series

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    This is wonderfully acted and beautifully shot. Well done. Unfortunately the soundtrack makes this un-watchable.

    It's not only far too loud. It's just wrong. This Pink Panther-esque jazz just detracts from what's happening on screen. It doesn't accompany, support or compliment the drama, it detracts from some fine acting and cinematography.

    Although the composer may have intended to be ironic, the compositions are not. It sounds sarcastic and comedic at times when what's happening on screen isn't. In fact at times the syncopated light jazz sounds as if it's being sarcastic to the viewer for watching! It really makes it incomprehensible.

    Shame you can't re-commission for a more suitable soundtrack.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Thank you BBC for commissioning Case Histories, one of the most enjoyable drama's that I have watched in a very long time. It's wonderful to watch a crime drama where you need to engage your brain. I love Jason Issacs as Jackson Brodie and have no trouble understanding his accent and i'm from Edinburgh. Well done to the wee girl who plays Marley, she brings a ray of sunshine to this dark drama. I especially love the quality of the filming and that fact that it shows just how beautiful my hometown is. Such a shame there is only 2 more episodes to go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    The last two episodes could have been very good if it were not for such ridiculous story lines. I am sorry, but this could have been an episode of Midsomer Murders it was so silly - the daughter goes missing, mum obviously frantic but when Jackson finds her at his house doesnt even bother to phone mum to let her know daughter is safe-merely chats to daughter then drives her back to her mums and thats the first mum knows about it!! The detectives son, by sheer coincidence, ha ha, just happens to be in the car park to witness the baseball bat attack ?? Complete stranger is asked by the hospital to keep an eye on the victim for the next 24 hours so they go to a hotel together?! Sorry, but where the hell did that stupid idea come from? They didnt even know each other, one was a witness to a crime the other the victim??? When the comedian was found dead at the house the detectives 'assumed' it was the author and even phoned the authors brother to tell him that his brother was dead?? No ID, no etiquette about telling next of kin etc etc. These are just a few of the most silly scenarios that marred what would otherwise be a great series with great characters and acting. More like a comedy show really Shame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    I'm really disappointed. I think Jason Isaacs is a great actor and the performances are good but there is something unconvincing and artificial about Case Histories. I thought I'd give it another try this week. But it is not great drama; not tight enough and too predicatable to be a proper thriller but not believable enough to be proper character study. And why does hardly anyone have a Scottish accent ? Is that what Edinburgh is like ? The BBC schedule so needs a piece of must watch tv drama but this isn't it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I agree with 13 and 14. I live in Edinburgh and it looks beautiful in this series but I am afraid the storylines are farcical. I'll leave the daughter out of it.

    Case Histories- this weeks episode.

    As far as I can recall the list of characters last night were as follows:

    • Jackson Brodie- The Private Detective
    • Jackson’s Girlfriend
    • A stand up comedian who is friends with Jackson’s GF
    • The woman Police Officer
    • Her Son
    • Russian prostitute 1
    • Her Twin Russian prostitute 2
    • A Russian cleaner.
    • The crime fiction author
    • The property developer
    • The property developers wife (of 39 years)
    • The property developers man Friday.
    • Another policeman called Murdo
    • Jackson Brodies brother
    • Jackson Brodies sister (appearing in flashback)
    • A road rage victim
    • A female doll seller in a Russian hotel

    I make that 17 altogether.

    Jackson Brodie- The Private Detective

    • Discovered two dead bodies in separate incidents when he wasn’t looking for them.
    • Survived 2 attempted murders and on both occasions, even although he was capable, he didn’t bother chasing the attacker.
    • Witnessed two other attempted murders, preventing one but yet again failing to chase the assailant.
    • One of those was in the basement car park at work.
    • Witnessed another murder. There were three witnesses but no one was charged and the case was closed the same day.
    • Witnessed drowned sister being fished out of the water of Leith.
    • Rescued his brother whilst he was hanging himself in the family home.

    Jackson’s Girlfriend

    • Witnessed an attempted murder but didn’t call the police.
    • Shagged her comedian friend.
    • Got dumped

    A stand up comedian who is friends with Jackson’s GF and the author

    • Murdered in a case of mistaken identity, which came about because he borrowed the authors’ chesnut coloured chinos. Even although the murderer had seen the author in real living life just a few days before. (he looked nothing like the comedian.)

    The woman Police Officer

    • Basically failed to believe that anyone was in danger, even after two murders.

    Her Son

    • A schoolboy, who happened to witness the incident in Jackson’s basement, stealing a memory stick into the bargain.
    • Contemplated suicide


  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Russian prostitute 1

    • Murdererd and floating in the sea at cramond.
    • Jackson swam out fully clothed to her body and waited on shore til the police came but the body just completely disappeared and the police didn’t believe him.

    Her Twin Russian prostitute 2

    • Survived an attempted murder.
    • Was responsible for property developers heart attack
    • Held a knife to Jackson’s throat.

    The crime fiction author

    • Confessed to murdering a hotel operative in Russia, three years previously and getting away with it scot free.
    • Was drugged by the guy whose life he saved.
    • Murdered the property developers’ man Friday.

    The property developer

    • Had a massive heart attack
    • Murdered in his hotel bed.

    The property developers wife

    • Employed a hit man to kill her husband.
    • Ran away with all the money and with the prostitute and all when the police were about to arrest her.
    • Witnessed a murder
    • Witnessed an attempted murder.

    The property developers man Friday.

    • Murdered comedian
    • Murdered prostitute
    • Attempted Jackson (twice)
    • Attempted prostitute 2
    • Murdered Russian cleaner
    • Attempted on road rage victim
    • Had part of his nose bitten off.

    Another policeman called Murdo

    • Was somehow involved with the property developer and obviously being developed for murders next episode.

    Jackson Brodies brother

    • Tried to hang himself and now a vegetable in an institution

    Jackson Brodies sister (appearing in flashback)

    • Drowned

    A road rage victim

    • Survived attempted
    • Murdered the property developer as he was an assassin.

    A female doll seller in a Russian hotel

    • Murdered by author.

    Not one single person was arrested or charged with any of the above crimes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Completely agree with StevieMac in 15 above. I enjoyed the lush cinematography, and Edinburgh, though always appealing, has never looked lovelier BUT...
    this was possibly the most preposterous storyline ever. I commented afterwards that this was a story involving a mere 8 or so characters, all intermingled. If you leave out the doll-seller, Jackson's actress girlfriend etc I'm not far off.
    Undeterred I will watch the next episode. It can only be more plausible, surely...

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    I was very excited to see the BBC were doing this, as I love Kate Atkinson but what a disappointment! Jason Isaacs is great but important pieces of the storylines have been missed out, changed or simply not made clear as is noted on the PoV thread where people keep asking "what does that mean" or "what happened there"?

    A really good chance - blown.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    It was great to see my home city again. I have parked in thar car park many a time!

    The plot was a bit slow and convoluted.

    Why use a girl with Glasgow accent for someone who is supposed to be an Edinburgh girl?

    The sound was not good or was it Jackson. As my Wife said, Jackson needs to open his mouth wider.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    It always annoys me when the continuity of a programme isn't there....... Brodie's neck was red raw post strangulation attempt in prog 4 and a couple of scenes later (read hours) there are no signs of anything on his neck. Is this not just a lack of production professionalism?


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