David at the movies: The “Marsh girl” on the big screen

 

WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

 

There’s always a risk with a much-loved book that the movie version won’t do it justice. I’m pleased to say that this picture makes a fairly good job of it. Daisy Edgar-Jones captures the essence of Kya, Delia Owens’s captivating heroine, “the marsh girl” who grows up fending for herself in a Carolina swamp after her abused mother and siblings abandon her and even her vile abusive father disappears.

The screenplay telescopes Kya’s girlhood in order to concentrate on her trial for the murder of one of her boyfriends. There’s the good boy (Taylor John Smith) who badly lets her down, and there’s the two-timing ne’er-do-well (Harris Dickinson) whom she’s accused of killing. Both players are attractive but the roles have a soap-opera shallowness.

David Straithairn’s defence lawyer very much recycles Atticus Finch, as the character does in the novel. Filmgoers who haven’t read the book may find the ending a bit of a puzzle, but that’s no bad thing. The marshland and its creatures are beautifully filmed, and the local community is broadly well sketched. Cinematic gloss slightly dilutes the Gothic element that contributed much to the novel’s enchantment, but as a movie this comes close (perhaps not quite close enough) to the intense power of To Kill a Mockingbird.

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