After having criticised the opening episode of The Casual Vacancy last week, this Sunday I was left devouring my words (excuse the pun). Yes, my main issue with the first episode was that character Howard Mollison’s obesity was not obvious enough. This seems like a minor issue, but my argument was that Rowling made Mollison obese in order to compare him with heroin addict Terri Weedon to show how they both cost the tax payer to treat, yet Weedon is ostracised whereas Mollison is not. I felt that it was important that the BBC did not downplay this social commentary, as I believe that this forms a vital part of Rowling’s novel and the message it aims to convey: none of us are perfect, so why should we have the right to be prejudiced against others, particularly those less fortunate than us? In interviews Rowling has said that it infuriates her when people lack empathy, which is why I feel her novel is so important. It forces us to empathise, to consider important issues such as class divides, inequality, prejudice, self-harm, alcoholism and mental health issues. I felt that the comparison of Mollison’s addictive relationship with food to Weedon’s drug habit was one of the most effective ways in which Rowling criticises society’s tendency to favour a certain class or habit over another. This is why I was disappointed that Mollison’s obesity was not made more obvious in the first episode.
However, on Sunday night I did indeed eat my words. The second episode perfectly handles Mollison’s weight problem, directly comparing it to Weedon’s heroin addiction through references to Dr Jawanda’s methadone clinic, which Mollison is eager to close down. Mollison undermines the doctor, suggesting that the methadone clinic is a waste of money, and she sharply retorts with questions about the cost of his heart surgery. Mollison had visited the doctor earlier in the episode for a repeat prescription of some cream to treat a rash caused by his excessive skin (a result of obesity). The doctor asks him if his weight loss plan is working and he sheepishly brushes off the question, giving a vague reply. I am glad that the BBC retained this crucial scene from the novel, as it is a great example of Mollison’s stubbornness, refusing to lose weight despite the advice of doctors and, in doing so, costing the taxpayer through his need for heart surgery and rash cream. This all comes to a head at an entertainingly disastrous dinner party, one of my favourite scenes from the book, in which Dr Jawanda delivers a few home truths to Howard and we punch the air. Michael Gambon is superb in this scene, conveying perfectly Mollison’s pig-headedness. His silence in response to Dr Jawanda’s criticism shows us that he knows he’s in the wrong, yet he’s too proud to admit it and to change his lifestyle, making him even more a character that we love to hate. Making this scene all the more deliciously, and perhaps wickedly, humorous is my personal favourite Samantha Mollison, knocking back the wine and watching the chaos unfold.
I am still waiting to get excited by the presentation of Colin Wall’s OCD. So far I am not convinced, but I have learnt my lesson about making premature judgements. After all, these are the perils of episodic viewing. Maybe Wall’s anxiety disorder will become more obvious as the episodes progress. There have been glimpses of it, such as when Colin is asking his wife for reassurance about why his students are making rude hand gestures at him. His wife pretends that they were gesticulating at her instead in order to soothe him, which demonstrates both Wall’s paranoia and the emotional and physical toll that his illness takes on his loved one. This is another way in which Rowling’s novel presents us with important issues and aims to educate us about them, or at least make us question them rather than ignore them. I’d like to see Colin’s OCD become more obvious in the final episode, as it would be interesting to see a realistic portrayal of the often misunderstood disorder on the small screen.