Book vs Adaptation: The Field of Blood

The book

Published in 2005 and set in 1981 Denise Mina’s THE FIELD OF BLOOD introduces 18-year old Paddy Meehan; gopher at a Glasgow newspaper with a yearning to be a journalist. This stems from her lifelong interest in the real-life case of a man whose name she shares who was wrongly convicted of murder. As the book opens the story of a missing toddler has been front page news for several days until the body is found and two young boys, children really at 10 and 11 years old, are questioned over their involvement. One of the boys is a cousin of Paddy’s fiancé – a fact she lets slip to someone at the newspaper who urges Paddy to use her inside knowledge for a story. Paddy doesn’t, knowing how much it would hurt her family, but the story runs anyway and as she is shunned (literally) Paddy starts to question the official version of events, believing that the two boys must have had adult help.

The book is mostly good, at times utterly brilliant and, once or twice, a bit naff but overall makes for very good reading. Paddy Meehan is a more interesting character than any 18 year-old has a right to be but Mina has made her believable for her age with a mixture of insecurities, naivety and sometimes misguided stubbornness. Her yearning for a life other than what she was born to and her fear of achieving that dream and so leaving behind all that she is familiar with is compelling.

Another highlight of the book is its depiction of Paddy’s family and extended community. They are working class and devoutly Catholic with a raft of strict moral rules to guide them and we see how this restricts someone like Paddy who has ambitions beyond those a woman like her is meant to aspire to (a husband who doesn’t beat her and a bunch of children). At times they can be truly cruel such as when everyone stops speaking to Paddy due to their belief she sold their story to the newspaper but we also see the upside of living within such a strong community. For example when Paddy visits a colleague who has been taken to hospital she is shocked at his lack of visitors and gifts: in her world people would be lined up to visit and all manner of foodstuffs and other goodies would have been supplied to assure the patient they were being thought of. I liked the way Mina did not make it easy or even inevitable for her protagonist to walk away from the world she knew.

I must admit to being entirely disinterested in the few small interludes that are the story of the other Paddy Meehan. I think I understand the reason they were incorporated – to help show what it was that motivated the book’s heroine to become a journalist of the campaigning kind – but I got that point early on, before the half-dozen or so disjointed snippets from the life of the (not unreasonably) bitter wrongly convicted man took me away from the story that I was engaged with.

But for me this is a minor fault of a book which otherwise was compelling, even if the mystery supposedly at its centre often took a back seat. The real story is that of Paddy and her world – its good and bad points, its prejudices, its hardships and even its lighter moments. For me it’s a book about all the shades of grey between black and white, right and wrong. I loved it.

The adaptation

Two episodes of a TV show called THE FIELD OF BLOOD aired on UK television in 2011. Starring Jayd Johnson as Paddy, David Morrissey as the newspaper’s editor and a host of terrific actors in a strong ensemble cast.

It does suffer from one of the things I’ve come to expect of adaptations which is that people, especially young women, cannot be as unattractive or dumpy on screen as they are described in books. So although she is constantly dieting and repeatedly teased for her weight like her literary counterpart the Paddy Meehan of the adaptation could barely register as anything but svelte by most definitions. That aside though the casting of Johnson is a good one as she captures the essence of Paddy’s character, particularly her age and internal conflicts, well. The rest of the cast are equally good with stalwart David Morrissey being a standout as the jaundiced editor, a role which seemed to me to have been beefed up for the adaptation (perhaps taking advantage of the securing of Morrissey for the role).

Normally it is annoying when things are left out of adaptations but I thought the fact that the filmed version contained no interludes of ‘the real Paddy Meehan’s story a bonus. The incorporation of a 30 second conversation about the man proved that it was entirely possible to demonstrate Paddy’s motivations for becoming a journalist without needing the bizarrely disjointed snippets that were included in the novel.

Another bonus of the visual medium was the greater ease with which the time and place could be conveyed. The smoke-filled newsroom filled with typewriters and men, the clothing and the cars all screamed 80’s in a way that words can’t quite achieve (especially if you weren’t there and can’t conjure up your own images).

The film lacks most of the nuances of the book (time restraints demand this really) and almost entirely ignores the broader political themes Mina was exploring (the setting was switched to 1982 for example and I can only assume this was to avoid some specific political issues such as the links between the Catholic community in Glasgow and the hunger-striking prisoners in Northern Ireland). But it does have a jolly good stab at conveying the world that Paddy inhabited and the myriad of obstacles she faces including her own family’s fears about her ambition to leave their world and the prejudices against Catholics and women that she rubs up against in the wider world.

Adaptations have to change some things from their source material whether due to time constraints or the vagaries of different mediums. But this one stays true to the essence of Mina’s book and, probably due to her having a writing credit for the screenplay, retains some of her best lines (including Dr Pete’s dig at those sneaky bastards the meek who will inherit the earth – it was my favourite line of the book and I loved the fact it made it to the adaptation).

The winner?

For me this one’s a tie. As a reader of course I’m always going to fall on the side of read the book first but I think the film is a good one which stands on its own merits and if you happen to have seen it first I think you could still enjoy the book. And if you have read the book you would be hard-pressed to be disappointed by the film and would likely enjoy seeing early 80’s Glasgow brought to life.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Book vs Adaptation is an irregular series of posts stemming from the fact that sometimes I’m too tired to read and so turn to DVDs and downloads (all legal I assure you, I am far too terrified of prison to turn to channel bittorrent). If there’s an adaptation you think I should look out for do let me know.

The book 4.5/5, 367 pages, published 2005, I borrowed it from the library
The adaptation 4/5. 2 hours, aired first 2011, I bought it on DVD from the UK

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14 Responses to Book vs Adaptation: The Field of Blood

  1. Sarah says:

    Interesting. I have bought the DVD of ‘Silence’ based on Jan Costin Wagner’s book of the same name. But I haven’t got around to watching it yet. It’s a good idea for a post.

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    • LOL Sarah I’ve got the book and the DVD of that here so it might feature in a future instalment of this series – but I am always curious to see what others think of adaptations too so would look forward to your thoughts

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  2. Kathy D. says:

    Drat! Why can’t we have these adaptations over here in the States. I loved Denise Mina’s Paddy Meeham series. I agree with not being taken with the prisoner segments. I’d have been fine just dealing with the main character throughout.
    I remember that the book and the series dealt with Paddy Meehan being the first woman in her newsroom and she had to deal with a lot of sexism in many forms. She is a tough woman, which was a great trait in those books. Also, the series went into the dying of old-fashioned newsrooms for print newspapers, with replacement of many jobs with high technology and the conglomerates taking over many. I thought the feel for this was excellent in this series.
    I am so glad you liked this book.
    I really wish we could access these adaptations. (Of course, a real person wouldn’t be portrayed. A more glamorous character and actor would be portrayed. Who would be proposed if a series were made about Ruth Galloway, I wonder?)
    And “naff”? Is that another word for “daft” “wacky”? Just asking.
    My only complaint about Paddy Meehan is that she only lasted for three books. I wonder if Mina will ever revive this series.

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    • Kathy I’ve given up waiting for stuff I want to see to show up here so I watch ebay and other sites for good deals on DVDs and I have a DVD player that plays discs from all regions. This way I can avoid watching TV with the endless ads and schedule changes and enjoy what I want when I want.

      I liked the Paddy character and the depiction of the newsroom and will be reading the other two books in the series some time soon.

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      • Oh and naff in this instance means uncool or unfashionable or the opposite of trendy – it’s fairly British I suppose though in reasonably common usage here (I think – I may have picked it up in England and just think everyone knows what I mean when I say it). A word we Australians use for the same thing would be daggy but I’m not sure if there is an American equivalent.

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  3. Bernadette – It’s so difficult I think to portray an eighteen-year-old character well when one’s writing. They’re complex and most of the time neither mature nor childish (or perhaps both at the same time). I’ve not seen the film but I agree with you that Mina for the most part got it right with Paddy Meehan’s character. And I’m glad you highlight the kind of background Meehan has. That’s another delicate balance that I think Mina strikes fairly well and as you say, we do get to see how her background has influenced her thinking. I agree with Sarah too that the book vs film angle you take in this post is really interesting. I hope you’ll do it again with another book/film.

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  4. Whoops! Forgot to close the italics *blush* Sorry!

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  5. Barbara says:

    This book was my introduction to Denise Mina’s work and I loved it. I empathized with Paddy and her desire to be a journalist, as well as her isolation even within her family. The story introduced me to a part of my beloved Scotland that I wouldn’t otherwise have known about.

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  6. Maxine says:

    Unlike you and others here I did not like this book very much. I loved her Garnethill trilogy and the novel she wrote after that, Sanctum, so was very much looking forward to Field of Blood. I suppose I found it too “romancy” and “slice of life-y” as well as a bit clunky (agree with you about the real Paddy Meehan parts). Someone told me that this book was written for a young adult market but in the end was published as a regular novel, not sure if there is any truth in that. I didn’t read any more of this series but tried the first two of her new series, and am still a bit on-the-fence about those. Pity that her first trilogy was so stellar, she has a lot to live up to.
    Can’t comment on the TV version as I didn’t see it, but it sounds as if they made a good stab at the adaptation, unlike many. Another one you might want to try sometime is Sophie Hannah – a couple of hers have been adapted and as her books are such curate’s eggs you might find it amusing to feature her in this slot to see which is the “better” depiction. (I’ve only seen one TV adaptation via recording – mainly because Olivia Williams plays the title role.)

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    • I did wonder if the book was meant to be a YA one at the beginning Maxine but there were too many adults in it to be truly aimed at that market I think. I have a bit of hit or miss luck with Mina as I loved the Garnethill books but am not terribly taken with the Alex Morrow ones, though I did give Mina a lot of credit for trying new things all the time and I’m OK with the fact that I don’t like everything she does. I think I identified quite heavily with Paddy – having grown up in a similar heavily Catholic, working class environment and not fitting in because I didn’t believe all the things I was meant to.

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  7. Bill Selnes says:

    I would say the worst adaptation I am aware of involved the Joanne Kilbourn series of Saskatchewan author, Gail Bowen. Instead of putting the series in Regina where it is located they set the series in some generic unknown big city probably supposed to make viewers think of Toronto. They lost all sense of the setting. The lead actor portraying Joanne was a very attractive woman who is a good actor but I did not think appropriate for the role. What they did to the plots is hardly worth discussing. I could not complete watching the first adaptation. I hope Gail got lots of money from the film company.

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    • That’s a real shame Bill – I’ve only read one of those books but I thought it very good and could have been turned into a good TV series. I shall be talking about some of my least favourite adaptations in future instalments of this series and I suspect they will share some of the same qualities as what you have described.

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  8. Kathy D. says:

    I loved the Garnethill trilogy and no other books by Denise Mina have hit that level of enjoyment — yet. Although I liked the Paddy Meehan character and books, I did not like the first Alex Morrow book at all and thought the second one was well-done, but I didn’t love it.
    Sophie Hannah — aauugh! I can’t deal with her writing, but am interested to see what you think.

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  9. Pingback: Books of the Month – April 2012 | Reactions to Reading

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