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The Crack Magazine

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Where The Crawdads Sing

Director: Olivia Newman

Stars: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Taylor John Smith, Harris Dickinson, David Strathairn, Michael Hyatt, Sterling Macer Jr. JoJo Regina

This big screen adaptation of Delia Owens' hugely popular 2018 novel is a total misfire that exacerbates the flaws of the source material.

Daisy Edgar-Jones from TV’s ‘Normal People’ is Kya Clark, a reclusive young woman accused of murder in 1969 North Carolina. Flashbacks illustrate how Kya (played in the younger incarnation by Jojo Regina) was abandoned by her mother, followed some time later by Kya’s elder brother, leaving her alone with her drunken, bitter and violent father (Dillahunt). Although they momentarily bond over fishing during one of his sober periods, he soon succumbs to alcohol again, eventually abandoning her to raise herself in their home in the marshes. Kya gets by selling mussels to kindly Black local shop owners Jumpin’ (Macer Jr.) and his wife Mabel (Hyatt).  A sympathetic local boy Tate (Smith) teaches Kya to write and encourages her in her artistic passions. She also attracts the attention of spoiled rich kid Chase Andrews (Dickinson).

When Chase’s dead body is discovered, Kya, the Marsh Girl as locals deride her, is put on trial. Tender-hearted old lawyer Tom Milton (Strathairn), who knew her as a child apparently, comes out of retirement to represent her.

The characterization feels even more reductive than the book, with the Black characters, the blandly supportive Jumpin’ and Mabel, in particular getting short shrift, save for a tiny moment where they seem to muse over the wisdom of getting involved. Meanwhile the central protagonist, far from the supposed reclusive, socially awkward character you might imagine, seems improbably self-possessed and looks as if she’s just stepped out from a rustic-themed photoshoot.

Cinematographer Polly Morgan’s sanitised rendering of the marshlands is overly-lit and inappropriately picturesque. The climactic courtroom scenes fail to generate any drama chiefly on account of the evidence against Kya seeming remarkably flimsy.

Where the Crawdads Sing is out now

David Willoughby

Follow David on Twitter @DWill_Crackfilm

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