First Look: Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling, BBC One

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Well, I’m back from my little break and slowly but surely I’m catching up with the things that I’ve missed this week. Last night I went along to the BFI Southbank to watch the first episode of the first of the eagerly-awaited BBC adaptations of JK Rowling’s (or Robert Galbraith’s) Cormoran Strike novels. The first, three-part series is based on The Cuckoo’s Calling book, and stars Tom Burke as Strike and Holliday Grainger as Robin Ellacott. The good news is that it’s good. And the extra good news is that we now know when it’s going to appear on our screens.

I’ll hold my hands up now and say that I’ve not read any of the Robert Galbraith novels (they’re on the pile), but sitting next to colleagues who had, they assured me that this first episode was an extremely faithful re-telling of the story.

Of course, attention and discussion will immediately turn to Tom Burke’s casting and subsequent portrayal of Strike. In the books Strike is a tall, hulking, hairy man. Burke – who I’ve been a fan of for a long time and have felt never gets the credit he deserves – is excellent as Strike. He may not be as physically massive as Galbraith’s character in the books, but he walks and feels like a much bigger man on screen. He seems to have employed subtle techniques that make him look bigger. A bit like, say, Sofia Helin as Saga Norén, who really embraces and climbs into the physicality of her character, Burke does the same.

Burke’s Strike is charismatic yet self-destructive, but also avuncular and highly likeable – not nasty or bitter. Despite obvious hardships, there’s still a twinkle in his eye. An extrovert who’s been blunted by life’s experiences. Indeed, screenwriter Ben Richards said in the Q&A that he was sick and tired of the Scandi-style introversion we’re now used to in crime drama, and wanted to introduce balance and even a bit of humour into the characters.

Attention and discussion will also turn to Strike’s major character affectation – in this case, his artificial limb, fitted after he was blown up in Afghanistan. The subject is dealt with sensitively, but it’s always therein the background. You see him take off the limb at the end of the day, and even talk to it as if it was a person. He has a relationship with it, but it never feels like his artificial limb defines him – it’s just something he has to deal with. In this way, Strike reminded me a bit of Gregory House.

Elsewhere, the chemistry between Cormoran and his agency placement and soon-to-be-partner-in-crime Robin Ellacott (Holliday Grainger) is also worth discussing briefly. Grainger is almost perfect as Ellacott – she’s sprightly, spirited and intelligent, and the two hit it off almost immediately.

This sort of private detective and assistant dynamic – and the way they go about their business looking into the case of the apparent suicide of model Lula Landry – feels very familiar, almost old-school. These sort of tales used to be ten-a-penny on TV, but because we haven’t had one for a long time, Strike feels fresh and new. And the London setting gives it a modern, grimy edge.

So it’s good stuff and no doubt it’ll be a big hit.

The question is, when can we see it?

Sunday 27th August, 9pm, BBC One. 

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