Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal [Review]

I’ve just realised that title implies Terry Pratchett is going postal, but this is actually a review of the Sky adaptation of his Going Postal book, which aired on Sunday and Monday here in the UK.

Let me come straight out and say that, in every film or television adaptation I can think of, the book has been better. That’s not to say every film/TV adaptation is rubbish, but I’ve just never seen one when I thought the adaptation came out on top. Having said that, I thought Sky’s other two adaptations, The Colour of Magic and Hogfather, were both good so I looked forward to whatever Going Postal had in store.

I deliberately didn’t read Going Postal before watching, because I didn’t want the “proper” story too fresh in my mind. As it was, then, I really enjoyed the adaptation.

Charles Dance is, while different from how I imagined Vetinari to look, an excellent Patrician. I much preferred his quiet, understated, slightly menacing portrayal to Jeremy Irons’ lisping version (although, take the lisp out and Jeremy Irons was much closer to the Vetinari of my imagination). I can’t remember if we’ve ever seen Drumknott before, but it was a bit of a surprise to see him played by Steve Pemberton from, among other series’, The League of Gentlemen. I kept expecting him to do something ridiculous, but mercifully that never came!

Richard Coyle, arguably the star of the show, plays Moist von Lipwig… the postmaster. He’s got a cheeky chappy charm about him that fits Moist’s conman style to the ground. In fact, the way he fits with the Lipwig I imagined means I don’t have much to say about him other than, “good job!”

There are loads of other characters and actors I could comment on, but I want to move on. Let me quickly say that Claire Foy spent a wee bit too much screen time grimacing and glaring for my likes, and that David Suchet was absolutely brilliant as Reacher Gilt! Honestly, it wasn’t that long ago that I only knew him as the mild-mannered Poirot, but he does villains brilliantly.

OK, on to storyline. As far as I can recall (remember, I didn’t want the book to be fresh in my mind), the storyline is pretty close to that of the book. But the real test is whether it’s fun to watch! It was, and I was quite surprised to find that each of the two episodes is two hours long. They just flew past, with the story cracking along at a good pace to try and fit in as much as possible. There are some great moments of comedy, emotion, and the just plain weirdness we’ve come to expect from the mind of Sir Terry.

The only thing that really niggled me was how Lipwig was caught by the Watch for his fraud at the very start of episode one. Sergeant Angua, a watchwoman and werewolf, has always been careful in the books not to reveal her dual nature, but in the adaptation she’s pretty open with it. If you’re not a Pratchett fan that’s unlikely to bother you, but the obsessive geek in me did cringe at her changing just to scare Moist.

So, on the whole, Going Postal was a great story and, I thought, pretty close to Discworld lore. Sure there are things that grate, but there always will be when a book is adapted for a wider audience. It was still fun, and will be well worth getting when it comes out on DVD.

And, of course, it was nice to see Terry Pratchett himself in the traditional cameo appearance.

Did you watch Going Postal? What did you think of it? Is there another Discworld novel that you think is just crying out for an adaptation? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

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  1. James Donovan Sunderland says:

    At this point Angua is already made Sergeant, probably Vimes's best. Not Corporal.

    Well, there'll always be adaptation decay. I didn't like the episodes, but I suspect it's because I've read the book and loved it. As a standalone movie, I suppose it works well enough, although the characterization of Moist and his character development is nowhere near strong enough. They were unable to fully portray his progress along the road to redemption, from a low rogue to the avatar of hope he becomes.

    This in the Sky series was highly unconvincing, and the moment where Groat says Moist is the best Postmaster General ever is, as a result, cringeworthy. Not if you've read the book however! But the viewer shouldn't be left to fill in the blanks for himself like this.

    Also, what possessed them to make Lord Vetinari impose the death penalty on Moist if he lost the wager? Insane, illogical, no justification possible. This was a jarringly bad section, even if you haven't read the book first.

  2. Doh! Quite right, I've no idea why I called her Corporal Angua. She's even referred to as Sergeant in the adaptation. I've changed it in the review.

    I agree that they weren't able to portray Moist's transformation fully, and maybe if I hadn't read the book at all I'd be confused by it. I'm wondering if there's a hope (by TP's publishers) that people who've watched the series will buy the book to learn more… That's probably putting too much faith in their marketing ability :)

    As for the death sentence – Vetinari says that if Moist fails he will have outlived his usefulness. I think that's fair enough, but I would have imagined Vetinari's style to be more attuned to having Moist snatched in the night and quietly executed rather than going public with it. Still, I reckon the real point was just to build tension before the big finish.

  3. James Donovan Sunderland says:

    Well, I suppose it's because you retained a fondness for the previous installments in the City Watch arc? It's my favourite Discworld arc btw. My least favourite is probably the Rincewind arc, and even that I find lots to like about. Pratchett ftw.

    No, I don't agree that the in-movie explanation makes any sense whatsoever. Vetinari would say that to Moist in private, but in front of Reacher??? And this is supposed to raise no eyebrows whatsoever, that the POSTMASTER GENERAL would lose his LIFE, in a PUBLIC HANGING, if he lost a BET against the Grand Trunk??? The caps are supposed to represent my voice rising higher with incredulity, and the multiple punctuation marks my increasing sense of bewilderment and induced insanity…!!!!!!

    No it just makes no sense whatsoever, it's poor scriptwriting. I can make plenty of allowances for adaptation decay, for instance I think Peter Jackson did such a bang-on job with LOTR that LOTR to me is the one single instance where the movie ends up better than the book, and I'm thrilled that Jackson is taking on the Temeraire series, I can think of no better person. But when the internal coherence of a movie becomes lacking it's just plain bad.

  4. That's very generous of you, but I think it was just a brain-fart on my part! My favourite story arc was the Death ones – Mort, Reaper Man and Hogfather.

    Be careful with those exclamation marks. This is a public forum and someone from Mental Health Services might see them! :)

    Spot on with the LOTR series, by the way. The films are much better than the books. I think that's partly because the story had to be compressed a little, so it moved along more quickly than the originals. I hadn't heard of Temeraire until just there – it looks very interesting.

  5. Isriddari says:

    I'd like to squeeze in to this conversation to add my reasoning for the death penalty.
    Gilt's got everything to lose yet nothing to gain. Add to the bet Moist's life. Fair deal? In that way it was Vetinari pulling his little strings.

    Of course there's lot that one can nitpick, for example I thought that Moist chose to send a book was cheating. Having Ridcully do it, as in the book, is a fair and a nice surprise. But that's what fans do, we nitpick. It's our way of showing that we really care.

  6. “But that's what fans do, we nitpick. It's our way of showing that we really care.”

    I like that :) Thanks for posting!

  7. The movie took a great story with witty humor, dialogue and interesting characters, and stripped it down to a B grade play. i was on the fence about the movie, and i was already taking into consideration the fact that adaptations rarely live up to the original, when the one line that best sums up Adora Belle's personality and uniqueness was trashed.

    in the book, when moist asks adora belle, “would you like to have dinner tonight?” she replies (just from memory) something along the lines of “yes, i rather enjoy having dinner every night, thank you very much. ”

    in the movie, she replies “with you? i've got things to do but thanks for asking.” cue porn music. scratch that, ive seen some porn with better scripts. did the director/writer even read the book? why change already amazing dialogue?

    yet the director/writer tries to fit in the really stupid stuff, like in the hanging scene when drunknott walks up and moist shouts “REPRIEVE!”. wtf? the whole scene was a run on sentence (like this paragraph) in order to stay true to the book, at least dialogue-wise. sadly, the movie even fails to do that.

    the movie moist was way too hectic and frantic. sure, one could argue that death has that effect on a man. the thing about moist, though, is that he is suppose to give off an air of complete likeability and nonchalance, so that even when he is begging and pleading for his life, people think that he's just having a good time. i honestly thought at first that the movie moist was criminal number 1 who is hanged before moist in order to illustrate the definitey (is this even a word?) of hanging, because most people don't associate terry pratchet with death (maybe with Death, though), and would not take the scene seriously. lo and behold, however, pitiful criminal #1 turns out to be our beloved hero, Moist.

    the thing that makes an adaptation good is not trying to include every little thing from the book, but to incorporate the parts that make it unique. plot wise, terry pratchet books aren't exactly gripping thriller mysteries, but the clever banter and characters are what the books worth reading. all the movie did was take some characters with the same name and ran them through a similar plot. plot=plot does not mean movie=book

  8. Thanks Alex. I've often wondered how much of a say Terry Pratchett gets in what's included and what's not… especially given that he has a cameo role in every adaptation so far. What do you think?

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