As part of our Read a Great Movie month, Harry Bingham talks about seeing his first Fiona Griffiths novel, Talking to the the Dead, become a TV show on Sky Living.
I’ve been a full-time author for a dozen years now. I’ve had reasonably frequent interactions with the TV and film industry. I even once had an actual offer for one of my books from a London production company.
All that interest, however, evaporated like steam from a Hollywood hot tub. Dear old publishing might look a little fusty, but it does manage the business of actually bringing out books with remarkably little drama. The film industry is like a glamorous – but slightly crazy – younger sister: flighty and unreliable.
With the launch of Talking to the Dead, however, it all changed. TV has an insatiable desire for cop-shows-with-a-difference, and Fiona Griffiths, the protagonist of Talking, is very different from the classic boozy, cynical, middle-aged cop. And more even than the actual murder investigation, my little Fiona Griffiths is the heart of the book.
TV wanted her, without much hesitation. I went to see the two production companies who had made the best offers. One was a very well-known, well-resourced outfit, with some capable producers. The other, Bonafide, was a tiny concern housed in a scruffy backroom off Charing Cross Road.
If it was just a question of resources, I’d have gone with the larger outfit every time. But these things have a remarkable amount to do with passion, belief and the ability to pull strings. I was also vastly impressed by Bonafide’s desire to stay close to the spirit of my distinctly off-beat novel.
We got interest from Sky almost immediately, and the project was greenlighted very early on. Gwyneth Hughes, a wonderful screenwriter, was signed up. Acting talent – Russell Tovey, Keith Allen, Mark Lewis Jones – was attached not long after. The star of the show, Sophie Rundle, is a wonderful actor (think Episodes, Bletchley Park) but this show was to be her first big lead.
I’ve always been clear in my own mind that I didn’t want the TV show to be a mere transcription of the novel. Those things always fail, simply because the things you need for success are different. And of course, the TV Fiona Griffiths, as interpreted by Sophie Rundle, is different from mine. She doesn’t look the same, sound the same, or behave quite the same as the one in my head.
That hasn’t troubled me. The TV show has moments of amazing, weird beauty – most notably a scene in a mortuary, but also the way Cardiff and its environs have been brought to the screen, suffused by our grey, gentle seaside light. The work of art that’s been created is different from my own. Independent, even. But I like it all the better for that.
A pilot inevitably feels a little cramped: there’s a way in which you only get to know TV characters over multiple episodes. The pilot has lots of teasing character avenues to be explored and, I hope, Bonafide and Sophie Rundle will get the chance to explore them.
Harry Bingham is the author of the Fiona Griffiths series, Talking to the Dead and Love Story, With Murders. Both are available now. The third book, The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths, is out next year.