I knew it was possible. Sky has actually produced a watchable Discworld film!
In all fairness, the Hogfather two years ago wasn’t entirely unwatchable, with a decent cast and spirit of Christmas allowing it some real goodwill. No, the adaptation that stunk to high heaven, and took me no less than fifteen attempts to get through, was the Colour Of Magic in 2009, which ensured that any future Sky produced Discworld action would have to be approached very carefully indeed.
My first concern was the way the advertising seemed to avoid all possible mention of the date it was actually being released. I think it only became confirmed as ‘29th May 2010’ about a week prior to release. It had been slightly oversold, I thought, having grown sick to death of the trailer promising it would be ‘delivered soon’. It seemed it could be fun, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up.
So this really was a triumph of low expectations. Going Postal, starring the likeable Richard Coyle, popped up at last on the second May Bank Holiday and succeeded in being not entirely awful.
All right, I’m damning with faint praise here. Actually I enjoyed it a great deal. I think I’m still bitter that David Jason was horrendously miscast as cowardly wizard, Rincewind, in the last effort. Ugh. Colour of Magic was turgid and dull, a lifeless incarnation of what’s meant to be a vivid, bustling and OTT fantasy world. I think they’ve learned a great deal from previous experience, and in Going Postal they might even be starting to get it. It could be the change in director, or the cheaper location shoot, but something starts working very well.
The first good sign is the casting of Richard Coyle, perhaps still best known to all of us a ‘that weird guy from Coupling’. Here’s he’s finally been given a role that fully unleashes his peculiar brand of manic charisma. He plays the uniquely named Moist von Lipwig, a no good conman who never strictly intends to do any harm with his forgeries and tricks, but who eventually learns he may have wrecked a lot more than his own life in the process. I’ve just realised that sounds like Iron Man’s Tony Stark – but it’s a great character arc! When we meet Moist he’s just been caught by Sgt (and werewolf) Angua (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) of the City Watch, and his chances look dim as he’s about to be hanged by the world’s nicest executioner.
However, the Machiavellian Patrician of Ankh-Morpok, has far worse fate in store for Mr Lipwig. He puts Moist in charge of the almost defunct Post Office! Although Lipwig initially attempts to escape from his new role, a single-minded golem for hire, called Mr Pump, hauls him back and Moist finally has to deal with rooms full of undelivered mail, the ancient and the insane remaining two-person work force, and the crossbow bolts of his possible beloved, the gothic, golem-dealing Adora Belle Dearheart. Oh, and the last four Postmasters all died in varying degrees of nastiness. Moist may need to use all his guile, and bluster, and luck, to survive.
From this spills a highly enjoyable (and topical) romp, splattered with some priceless innuendo (the Pin Shop scene is a mini masterpiece) with plenty of silliness, but also great pace, some sly wit at its heart and the nerve to be more than a little bit relevant. Alluding to the state of the country’s finances, it brings what could be dismissed as fantasy nonsense right back to ‘reality’. Only this is lots more fun.
In Discworld the Post Office has been all-but wiped out by the competition from the Clacks, a medieval version of the internet. Huge towers broadcast messages in code back and forth across the Disc. However, the production doesn’t demonise the Clacks themselves for their success, instead it highlights the evils of any single communication company getting full monopoly – embodied by the vulture-like Reacher Gilt (David Suchet) who keeps a stranglehold on the increasingly inefficient Clacks service, whilst using murderous tricks to deny any customers the choice to go postal themselves. So basically he’s AOL. It’s the lack of choice that truly narks the city’s fearsome Patrician Vetinari, played with dry class, a dry wit and an even dryer hint of threat by Charles Dance. Vetinari wants a decent communication service so that he can play ‘Thud’, the Discworld equivalent of Chess, with his out-of-town friend. Clacks is coming up severely short and he needs a Postmaster who can survive the night.
So begin the trials of Mr Moist von Lipvig, and time flies like Lipvig’s prestigiously winged post office hat, as we enter a Discworld that dares to be a little less precious and a lot more irreverent about itself. This is a huge strength and any further adaptations would be smart take a similar approach. The cast were enormous fun, too. My particular favourite characters were Tolliver Groat (Andrew Sachs), the nonogarian postman and his pin-obsessed assistant, Stanley Howler (Ian Bonar). Stanley’s character is a delight, being a young man worryingly obsessive about collecting pins of every kind, and the less said when stamps are finally invented the better. Stanley has exactly the right amount of nervous nebbish about him, and he’s the perfect Discworld character. I’m also happy to see that Andrew Sachs has lost none of his ability to wring the last bit of humour from his role as a doddering, eccentrically dedicated postman.
While still not the most perfect version of a Discworld story, as I’m still waiting for the Aardman animation version of that, this is a brighter, smarter production that I reckon Terry Pratchett can be truly pleased with. Speaking for myself at least, this was a great deal of fun and highly recommended as a marvellous bit of intelligent nonsense.