From the studio to the morgue and back again
THREE OF the Benjamin Black crime novels are to be adapted for television for the BBC, and Gabriel Byrne is to play the central character of Quirke, chief pathologist and amateur sleuth in 1950s Dublin. Filming starts in November.
TV watchers won’t be surprised. There’s an insatiable screen appetite for clever, well-written crime dramas set in the grim and violent present and past. The latter chimes with the current popularity of period dramas.
Readers of the atmospheric novels, written by John Banville under the pen name of Benjamin Black, won’t be too surprised either. There have been five books so far and they’re good yarns – highly visual and atmospheric, full of complex personal relationships and clever plot twists, and with a central character that’s strong enough to propel any number of 90-minute TV episodes along.
However, readers who are only now embarking on the novels, starting with the first, Christine Falls, might be more than a little taken aback by the casting of Byrne. It’s not quite the shocker for crime fans of seeing Tom Cruise take on the role of Lee Child’s crime-busting hero. In Child’s books, Jack Reacher is famously 6ft 4in and built like a brick outhouse, and Cruise, well, isn’t.
Gabriel Byrne is dark-haired and not particularly tall, quite unlike the Quirke in Christine Falls, but Banville does point out that his alcoholic, emotionally complex loner has changed over the course of the novels.
“At the start, Quirke was a very large, blond fellow, with a huge torso dwindling to incongruously dainty feet. Then a reader, a woman, wrote asking me if I would please stop referring to Quirke’s blond hair as it was perfectly obvious that his hair is brown. I realised she was right, and Quirke’s colouring has been darkening ever since. So that’s the hair colour taken care of, and also, I keep reducing his stature – about all that’s left of his original shape are those ballet dancer’s feet. So I suppose by now, happily, he looks in general at least a bit like Gabriel.”
Quirke is a huge hit with the women, and Byrne hasn’t been left short-changed in the sex-appeal department. Then there is the fact that Gabriel Byrne’s name can help projects get the green light.
The stories started out as a television script in a three-part series written by Banville and commissioned by RTÉ and ABC Australia. Filming never got off the ground and years later the writer reworked the scripts into novels. Tyrone Productions bought the rights to the books and, working with another major Irish production company Element Pictures, which is involved in production and editorial development, Quirke – as the dramas are now called – finally got moving when the BBC came on board.