Now, I know it’s never a good idea to expect great things of a screen adaptation of one of your favourite books. It’s an even worse idea to hope for good things from a TV adaptation of a Terry Pratchett book. However, I’m an eternal optimist, so was quite excited to finally sit down in front of Sky’s adaptation of Going Postal. Despite the previous Pratchett adaptations inflicted on fans and regular viewers alike (an average version of Hogfather and the truly abysmal Colour of Magic/The Light Fantastic both inexplicably starring David Jason) I figured that with its lack of high fantasy and streamlined plot – not to mention the modern day and film parallels/references scattered throughout – Going Postal could actually work quite well.
It didn’t. For all sorts of reasons. It wasn’t too bad – there were some nice stylistic touches, and the majority of the casting was great – but there was still quite a lot of ‘I want to beat you round the head Mr Adapter/Director Man then do the job properly myself’. However, there was one aspect in particular that got me really confused, enraged and then despairing of film and TV in general.
The female lead in Going Postal is a character called Adora Belle Dearheart. A complete homage to female characters in film noir, and Lauren Bacall in particular, she’s strong, spiky, deeply sarcastic and a chain smoker. As in, cigarette permanently in hand – so much so that another character comments that Miss Dearheart reminds him of a volcano goddess, especially when the weather god has “rained all over her lava”. It’s a running joke, but one integral to the character.
With the target audience including children, teenagers and young adults I had wondered whether The Mob (the production company behind the Going Postal adaptation) would dare to keep this habit of Adora Belle’s alive on screen - indeed, with the anti-smoking attitude now prevalent in the entertainment industry (on screen at least) I had half resigned myself to it being surgically removed. Imagine my surprise when Claire Foy, as Adora Belle Dearheart sashays onto the screen, cigarette holder firmly in hand. My surprise continued as a large section of the plot of Going Postal developed into a half soaked, melodramatic anti-smoking advert. Rather than the chain smoking bitch expected by fans, the Miss Dearheart presented by The Mob has been morphed into a desperate, neurotic young woman, who was driven into nicotine by grief at the loss of her family’s fortune and demise of her brother. Themain character actually experiences a ‘flashback’ in which he sees a young, wholesome Adora Belle (wearing a brightly coloured dress and flowers in her hat) so distraught at the financial ruin of her family that she runs over to a stall in the street, rejects the comfort of a chocolate bar and instead chooses the dreaded box of cigarettes to the sounds of dramatic music. We later see her holed up in a barn (why?), forcing herself to smoke, coughing pitifully as she drives herself further into anti-social despair.
Now, I’m not a fan of smoking in any form. I do understand that role models, such as actors and movie characters, glamorising smoking is bad. I don’t understand however, why The Mob felt that such a melodramatic and patronising depiction of smoking would do anything for the audience save irritate the hell out of us. I looked up Going Postal on SceneSmoking.org, a website rating films based on their smoking content which I both sort of admire and find terrifying, to find out what they thought – sadly it wasn’t listed, which is a shame as they would have had a field day. Because despite the ‘beat you over the head with how bad smoking is’ attitude, if you give a sexy woman a cigarette holder, and, this is important, have the hero to take no notice of the fact his lady is occasionally puffing on it, you undo any of the vague intent behind the patronising additions to the story. Claire Foy, as Adora Belle Dearheart, makes smoking looks elegantly cool. All you’ve done is annoyed the fans, and frankly, anyone with half a brain.
The ironic thing is that in the original book character is, Pratchett very carefully, and subtly, does exactly what The Mob failed to. The Adora Belle Dearheart of the book, however awesome, is no role model. She’s neurotic to the point of needing serious therapy, and wields her cigarettes as anti-social weapons, a foul device to isolate herself from a society she refuses to trust. The main character, when meeting her for the first time watches her suck down smoke with a mixture of horror and fascination. The smoking isn’t carefully ignored, but seeps into both conversation and action – upon kissing Adora Belle, the hero comments that she tastes “like an ashtray”. Not exactly the glamorous society seems so scared of. Perhaps if more care and intelligent thought had been put into adapting Going Postal and *shock horror* stuck more closely to the text, The Mob could have had their cake and eaten it – a strong, spiky cigarette wielding heroine, who puts an impressionable audience right off smoking.