Wednesday, 11 September 2019

THE WATCH TV series casts Vimes and other castmembers, confirms it will only be a "loose" adaptation

BBC America's City Watch TV series, based on Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, has added several major new roles to its cast.

Richard Dormer, best-known to fantasy fans for playing the role of Lord Beric Dondarrion in HBO's Game of Thrones, has been cast as Sam Vimes, the commanding officer of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. One of Pratchett's most iconic characters, Vimes is the alcoholic, cynical commanding officer with a hint of a conscience who finds himself drawn back into real police work. The previously-announced Adam Hugill is playing Carrot and Jo Eaton-Kent (The Romanoffs, Don't Forget the Driver) is playing Constable Cheery Littlebottom, a dwarfish member of the Watch.

Maltese actress Marama Corlett (Guardians of the Galaxy, Blood Drive, The City and The City) is playing Angua, a werewolf member of the Watch. Lara Rossi (Crossing Lines, Iron Sky 2) has been cast as Lady Sybil Ramkin, whilst Sam Adewunmi (Luck Man, Doctor Who) has been cast as villain Carcer Dun.

The casting seems promising, although the formal BBC press release seems to drive a stake through the heart of those hoping for a faithful adaptation of the novels. It confirms a number of major changes to both the worldbuilding (crime has been formally "legalised" in Ankh-Morpork, apparently) and to characters, with Lady Sybil now apparently being a vigilante, which is presumably why they cast her considerably younger than in the novels.

It appears that this will be following in the footsteps of BBC America's Dirk Gently TV series in being more "inspired loosely by the books" then actually adapting them, which is a bold and possibly controversial choice (moreso with the considerably better-known and better-selling Discworld series).

The Watch starts shooting on location in South Africa on 30 September 2019 and will air in late 2020.


Jussi said...

If they wanted to do a faithful adaptation of the City Watch novels, they would have to cast all lead human roles with white actors[*]. There are no black people living in Ankh-Morpork in Pratchett's books. I believe that the only non-white humans in the city are the immigrants from Klatch, who look like people from the Middle East or North Africa.

[*]Until we get to Jingo with Klatchian characters.

Adam Whitehead said...

I don't think it's ever said even remotely that there are no black people living in Ankh-Morpork even in the early books, which would be highly implausible given its position as a centre of mercantile trade and its location which puts it much closer to Klatch then Rome was to Egypt (the Circle Sea is only 500 miles wide, whilst Rome is about 1,300 miles from Cairo).

In terms of a permanent population, immigration from Klatch is later said to be a thing but Ankh-Morpork is described as a melting pot with people from all over the Disc showing up even in the first book, so there would be black people living there, perhaps not in huge numbers, but certainly present (similarly to say London in the 18th and 19th Century).

The TV show is also blatantly not set in the book version of the city, but a sort-of "inspired by" version, so has even more freedom to do its own thing.

Finally, it's really not something Pratchett would have given two tosses about: "Racism was not a problem on the Discworld, because—what with trolls and dwarfs and so on—speciesism was more interesting. Black and white lived in perfect harmony and ganged up on green."

He may have been irritated with them casting his middle-aged, rotund Sybil with a conventionally more attractive, slimmer and younger actress though. The whole point about Sybil was that she kicked butt and took names in middle age through sheer force of personality and her resourcefulness. That being replaced by Batwoman is a disappointing choice.

Wastrel said...

Aside from the general points of "nothing ever says that everyone in AM is white", and "it's frequently implied that many people in AM are not white", and "it's clearly a fantasy version of London, which is famously multicultural", there are also repeated mentions of people we can assume are not white, from quite early in the series.

For instance, all AMers remember the fate* of the Agataean (i.e. Chinese) Mr Hong, when he opened his Three Jolly Luck Takeaway Fish Bar on the site of the former temple on Dagon Street, on the the night of the lunar eclipse on a full moon on the winter solstice.

Ironically, there's probably only one character in this I would think actually needs to be a given race, and that's Angua as a snow-blonde Aryan - because her family are not just stereotypically Germanic but actually almost literally Nazis obsessed with producing 'pure blood' pedigrees. Ironic because in this adaptation she's being played by a Maltese woman. Which is a tiny point, but doesn't fill me with confidence in terms of faithfulness to the books, but also makes me think they won't be adapting The Fifth Elephant, which is understandable (not being set in AM) but disappointing.

*"crack-crack-gristle-AAAARGH!", according to Ridcully.


And yes, batwoman-Sybil seems like a terrible idea. Adding a lithe young kickass vigilante heroine to a story may be feminist and woman-empowering... but removing a competent, intelligent, sympathetic, "well-built", forceful, passionate and effective middle-age woman in exchange is the OPPOSITE of feminist and woman-empowering.

NB, nobody seems to know Rossi's age, but she's only been acting for eight years, so, combined with her appearance, I'm guessing she's considerably younger than Dormer's 49 years. And in the books my impression is that Sybil is if anything older than Vimes, or at least of a similar age.

Anyway, I have such trepidation for this series. It just seems so unlikely that it'll be anywhere close to doing justice to the books (to be fair, I thought that before there was any casting or plot information known). And whereas series like ASOIAF or LOTR can easily be totally unlike the books and still great, the greatness of the City Watch novels is SO based on Pratchett's genius that it's hard to see how the series could work. If you take Pratchett's prose and plots out of those novels, and modify the characters, what you're left with is to be honest pretty (intentionally) cliché and not that interesting. You get "the world", sure, but the world was never the strong point - Ankh Morpork is just London with fantasy trimmings.

On the other hand, I guess I'm going to have to watch it just in case I'm wrong...

Adam Whitehead said...

Sybil is certainly in her early to mid forties when she has her and Vimes' baby, as it was a surprise and there were age-related complications.

According to Pratchett's unofficial timeline, Night Watch takes place c. 2002 in the Ankh-Morpork Calendar and Guards! Guards! took place in 1989 (with a few exceptions - like Small Gods - the books take place in the year of publication, transplanted to Ankh-Morpork's calendar). There's some wriggle room there though, as the City Watch books generally feel a bit closer together than their publication dates would suggest. If Sybil was in her mid-forties in 2002, she'd have been in her late twenties or early thirties when they met in G!G! and that doesn't feel right either.

Wastrel said...

Unfortunately, Pratchett's timelines generally don't make much sense! Either in the given details, or in the general 'feel' - some places and people seems to age much faster than others.

A lot of the Watch novels can be fairly precisely located with regards to one another, and I think your assumptions are a bit off, even if they are what Pratchett said.

In the opening pages of Feet of Clay (1996), it's repeatedly made clear that just under two years have passed since the events of Guards Guards (1989).

At the other end, Sybil is pregnant in The Fifth Elephant (1999), but she doesn't give birth until Night Watch (2002). Three years later, in Thud (2005), the baby is now just over one year old. By Raising Steam (2013) he's eight.

That means, if Night Watch is circa 2002 and DD is 1989, then there must be about 10 years between Feet of Clay and The Fifth Elephant. To me, the relationship between Angua and Carrot does NOT feel a decade older at that point! (or maybe it's just me not being able to imagine Angua being around 45 in Raising Steam... or Vimes being nearly 70, for that matter...)

In fact, with a little more digging: Night Watch gives Vimes' age in the Revolution as 16, and Sybil is the same age. So she's 46 when giving birth, which makes sense. BUT! In Men at Arms, Vimes says he's been in the Watch for (or just coming up to) 25 years. So there's 5 years between MAA (25 years after signing up, the year of the revolution) and NW (30 years after the revolution). Since MAA is in the two-year period between GG and FOC, and FE is probably around 6 months before NW, that gives us:

GG > 1 year > MAA > 1 year > FOC > 4 years > TFE > 6 months > NW. Approximately. And 4 years between FOC and TFE certainly seems to make a lot more sense to me, in terms of where the relationships are at. And also roughly fits the publication gap (3 years).

So I suspect that when Pratchett said the events of the books were mostly tied to the publication year, he meant that each book was approximately that length of time after the last one, unless he didn't want it to be, but he didn't always remember to take these deviations into account. So when he published X, Y and Z a year apart, he just assumed that Z was two years after X, even if in Y he explicitly said that four years (or a month) had taken place since X...

Anyway, by this cast iron (ha!) timeline, Sybil must be approximately 41 at the time of Guards Guards, which I think makes sense.

Wastrel said...

(but I recommend not going too deeply into Discworld timelines, if you don't want your brain to explode to the point where "a time-traveling monk did it!" seems like a reasonable explanation for everything...)

Going back, though:

It's particularly annoying if they've batwomaned Sybil because she's almost a posterwoman for ways women can be powerful WITHOUT having to dress up in lycra and punch people - she's rich, she's political, and her motto is literally that she doesn't take no for an answer (only in latin). And she's practically minded, plus-sized, and scoffs both at the idea that women have to choose between power and femininity, AND at overly narrow ideas of femininity, both exploiting and subverting the gender roles she's been put into. She'd be a fantastic character to see on television, particularly in a show that already has more traditional kickass female heroines like Angua.

More than just a waste of an opportunity, though, it feels like an almost offensive decision. It seems as though some studio exec has said: "at the moment, this woman is boring and lacks agency - all she does is run a dangerous endangered animal sanctuary, establish a public hospital, oversee the country's largest private fortune, maintain a hectic and highly political social calendar including regularly bending the dictator to her will and communicating with national leaders around the world, manage an appallingly disorganised husband and a vast mansion, and raise a child. We need to make her a strong woman who people can care about - let's make her a decade younger and have her fight crime! And maybe she can be sassy, too!". As I say, I have no problem with violent, sassy, crime-fighting female characters - Angua is amazing too - but it just seems like this modern TV assumption that we'll only be interested in a woman, or admire her, or see her as strong, if she's basically a 1980s action hero (and god forbid a woman be allowed on screen between the ages of 40 and 65!) is kind of chauvenist in its own right.

But, hopefully I'm reading too much into this!

Anonymous said...

I agree totally Wastrel - Sybil is a fantastic strong character and I love the way that Sam refers to her in all the books and the fact they’ve chosen to go with a young slim actress whose too young for the real Sam Vimes is really disappointing. Does this mean the Sam / Sybil relationship isn’t part of the show as well which would be sad but if it is - it’s not gonna work for me!!

Unknown said...

I'm so glad I'm not the only one having a hard time with the casting of the badass Sybil. If the exec's felt the need to have crime fighting women, and are already giving characters sex changes, they could have a few more women on the watch, or introduced more characters.
Sybil has always been awesome as is.
There is a reason the discworld books are beloved, and it's the characters as written that make them beloved.
I was truly excited for the show, but it seems as if the entire show may be Hollywood level cliche.