|The cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma|
BBC2 showed the first episode of their adaption of China Miéville's "The City & The City" last night. I wrote about it two years ago.
From previous TV adaptations of SF classics, I feared the worst, but this was actually pretty good.
Miéville's book leads with its extraordinary setting, with plot secondary and characterisation a pulp noir third. This doesn't work for TV, where character and action is primary.
The screenwriters therefore beef up the backstory for the lead character, Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad, Besźel, giving him a mysterious vanished wife (not in the novel) who may have vanished into the other city, or who was perhaps taken by - or recruited to - the secret border police Breach. Meanwhile they fill out the character of his sidekick, Lizbyet Corwi, who puts on an aggressive macho schtick to cope with being a female cop in a very traditional man's world.
They've used Liverpool for earthy, seedy, eastern-european Besźel and will perhaps use Manchester as the stalinist, modernist Ul Qoma. We shall see in the next episode.
If you didn't know the book already, the idea of two distinct and hostile city-states occupying the same geography would be a fast learning curve. But overall, I felt they got the mix of plot development, characterisation and exposition about right.
Abigail Nussbaum has a good and characteristically engaged review of the book.