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.
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).
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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