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Alex Reynolds reviews: WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

Alex Reynolds reviews: WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

It’s an unusual title…..and by the way, what the heck is a crawdad….a choral ensemble? Well dear reader, its a film title adapted from the 2019 popular debut novel by Delia Owens. As of this writing, the book has been riding high on the New York Times best seller list for 172 weeks.

It’s a spectacular first writing for Owens, a former scientist now in her mid-70s who has courted controversy since the 1990s. There’s a belief that Owens and her then-husband, Mark Owens, could have been associated in a murder cover up, and may have been involved in other crimes as part of their conservation efforts in the south African country of Zambia.

The narrative is kind of a grit and purity fantasy: Kya, a young white girl, abandoned by her family in the 1950s, adapts to the bleak realities facing her, learning to fend for herself in a North Carolina marsh. She’s sharp and resilient which aided her growing up in the isolation of the marsh’s untamed wilds and the segregation from her community.

Kya’s attraction to a couple of guys from town releases her from the isolated world she grew up in. Suddenly, a new and startling world is hers to explore. When one of them is found dead, she is immediately cast by the community as the main suspect. As the case unfolds, the verdict as to what actually happened becomes increasingly unclear, threatening to reveal the many secrets that lay within the marsh. Reacting to grim hazards, Kya transforms from illiterate to acclaimed scientific author without ever abandoning her close relationship with the land.

This is director Olivia Newman’s second feature film. There’s a fragile and heart tugging story of isolation and survival at the center of “Where the Crawdads Sing” (theatres, VUDU) which she brings to life for the reader and the viewer. She injects force into the delicate and heart-wrenching story of isolation and survival that gives due justice to its central protagonist. Newman demonstrates a strong sense of pace in highlighting the narrative’s ongoing mysteries leading up to a courtroom drama.

Daisy Edgar-Jones gets attention with a performance that keeps Kya on an even keel, maintaining a reserve as she seeks a way out of a troubled past while stalking a smooth route to fulfillment of a respected life. Though reserved and cautious, Edgar-Jones shows truth in the character, holding back just enough, while exhibiting a private, exploding love for life. It’s a feeling that she and the marsh are intertwined.

Veteran character actor David Strathairn, whose work I’ve admired over the years (and was my interview guest on CHCH), is well cast visually, playing strong as a retired lawyer who returns to the practice of law when Kya is charged with murder.

Film adaptations can be a difficult venture, falling short in retaining the essential elements of the popular source material. Readers have expectations, and perhaps unfairly, have a locked vision of the narrative. Visual changes are inevitable, so the written word and illustrated interpretation are generally judged separately by critics. They fall short of the intent of the creator but there is enough here to make book-readers appreciate the effort. There’s an “old-fashioned” approach here putting you in mind of an intriguing character we couldn’t imagine inhabiting, yet being fascinated by.

One moviegoer suggested, “If you haven’t read the book see the movie and then read the book”! There are clichés, but Daisy Edgar-Jones holds the eye with a spirited performance. The narrative’s compelling conclusion also holds viewer interest for readers of the consuming novel.

“Where the Crawdads Sing,” a literary thriller, warming the heart while breaking it at the same time has major muscle boost. It’s co-produced by Reese Witherspoon’s production company, and has high publicity input from giant book seller Barnes & Noble.

Alex Reynolds
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