Monday 25 November 2019

Casting Call: The Watch

There's been some very interesting news released regarding The Watch, the BBC and Narrativia's upcoming series based on Terry Pratchett's City Watch books (or rather, those Discworld books and plot strands that featured the Watch, since there was never a clear distinction between different sequences in the books).

The previous casting announcement, including the most important of them all, Vimes himself, was exciting, and in some cases surprising. Richard Dormer is a pretty inarguably good choice for Vimes. I don't know Adam Hugill, but he certainly looks like a Carrot. Marama Corlett is another new one to me, but she has a look about her that says Angua to me. Then things are little more unexpected. Already people are complaining about Lara Rossi, a mixed race actress, being cast as Lady Sybil. Now, she's certainly not how I pictured Sybil, more highly bread than a hilltop bakery, but more than anything, she seems too young and attractive (of course, if there are elements of Night Watch in the mix here, there may also be an older version of the character). But a non-white Sybil? Well, really, why not? Cue everyone with a keyboard and a jammed caps lock pointing out that there weren't black aristocrats, and OK, there were very few rich people in Britain who weren't white and probably no one who was landed, but this isn't Britain. It's a fantastic city on a flat planet which happens to share some similarities with London. You know what else they didn't have in pre-WWI London? Trolls.

Racism isn't generally a thing in the Discworld books, at least not in Ankh-Morpork, since everyone's far more interested in speciesism. Sam Adewunmi as Carcer is no problem - Carcer could just about be any race and it wouldn't really make a difference as long as he was enough of a bastard. More interesting to me is the choice of Jo Eaton-Kent as Cheery Littlebottom, famously the first openly female dwarf. Although if all dwarfs look male to humans, I guess it makes sense to have a male actor in the role.

The new announcement has some even more intriguing choices, though. It's very clear that Narrativia aren't going to be going for a strict adaptation of the books, since several characters have been gender shifted. I suspect that the stories are going to be reworked quite heavily to make the series. There are also quite a few non-white faces in the cast (well, not that many - four out of twelve in the cast list so far). Hakeem Kae-Kazim as Keel, Vimes's mentor, is an interesting choice. In the books, Vimes had at least a passing resemblance to him, so to have them as different races changes things quite considerably. Anna Chancellor as Vetinari is a huge change, and I'd never have considered changing the Patrician to a woman (the title alone is distinctly masculine) but I can actually really imagine Chancellor playing the role.

Then we have the brilliant Ruth Madeley, star of Years and Years, as Throat, a character based on Cut-Me-Own-Throat-Dibbler. Let's be clear: this is a disabled woman playing a character previously described as an able-bodied man. It's unexpected to say the least. We have James Fleet playing Archchancellor Ridcully, which is so perfectly acceptable to be obvious, while Bianca Simone Manie is playing a character called Wonse - not apparently the same character as Lupine Wonse - who is described as a "wizard hopeful in waiting." And female wizards are, traditionally, very rare indeed. Then there's Ingrid "Osgood" Oliver as Dr. Cruces, head of the Assassin's Guild, which is another unexpected bit of casting.

Some people are pretty angry about this, others just baffled, and to be fair, some of these casting decisions are totally different to what I'd envisioned reading the books. But then, why even bother making the series if it's just going to look exactly how everyone imagined it when they read it? Reinterpretation is the most interesting thing about a work like this. And to those who are saying this cast isn't realistic, two things: this is not the real world we're talking about, it's a world on the back of a giant turtle; and you what? This looks more like the real world than I ever expected it to.

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