Anyone who has ever been a fan of a novel which has received its own big screen adaptation will know that fizzy, excited feeling you get when you take their seat for your first screening. Will it live up to your expectations of the book? Will the characters look anything like you’d imagined them? And will you come away feeling full, satisfied? Where the Crawdads Sing is the next in Hollywood’s long list of book-to-screens being churned out, but will fans be shouting for a sequel?
Opening on Chase Andrews’ (Harris Dickinson) dead body lying waterlogged and muddy, we’re thrown into the most tantalizing criminal trial 1960s North Carolina town Barkley Cove has ever seen – starring prime suspect Catherine ‘Kya’ Danielle Clark aka the Marsh Girl (Daisy Edgar-Jones).
Now, we travel back in time to Kya’s early life, surviving her abusive, alcoholic father after her mother and siblings leave their shack, one by one, never to return. Eventually, he abandons her too, and young Kya is left to struggle on alone, with only the eyes of local shop keeper Jumpin’ (Sterling Macer Jr.) and wife Mabel (Michael Hyatt) watching over her.
As the years pass, Kya learns to survive on the support of her surroundings, truly earning her nickname given to her by townspeople. Collecting oysters to sell to Jumpin’; navigating the murky waters using her family’s old motorboat; decorating her shack with feathers, shells and other trinkets collected on her adventures. And she seems content – until Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith) enters her life, and becomes her whole world.
When Tate announces he’s leaving Barkley Cove to attend university, Kya is distraught, yet again left by somebody she loves, having to relearn how to be alone. But she won’t be pining for Tate for long, once local heart-throb Chase sets his sights on her, determined to tame the Marsh Girl… and leading himself to his own untimely death.
Reader, bear in mind that I watched Where the Crawdads Sing as a fan of the book, having read it during Lockdown 2020, a fantastic accompaniment to many long, warm evenings in the sun. It’s a brilliantly, beautifully written story about independence, love – romantic and otherwise – and the power of nature. Does the film hold onto what makes the book the bestseller that it is?
I’d say it does not. While Edgar-Jones is a great fit for Kya, with her doe eyes and flowing locks, the rest of the film feels too… perfect? Adult Kya is never shown to look dirty and unkempt – this is the Marsh Girl, who lives in a literal swamp. And it’s not just Kya but her environment, too. The marsh looks too polished, too much like a potential holiday destination for wealthy couples looking to get away from the daily grind. It feels like the film has lost what author Delia Owens nails on paper – the gritty, dark, twisted surroundings of Kya, reflecting her life back at her.
And while the novel’s story does revolve around Kya’s love triangle, this becomes the main focus of the film’s narrative, so much so I felt like I was watching an updated version of The Notebook at one point. Lots of close-ups of Kya kissing either Tate or Chase, steamy romps on a mattress, on a forest floor, by the sea. Granted, Dickinson and Smith are strong leading men, but it all felt a little too cheesy compared to what I know of Owens’ writing.
One highlight I will take away from the adaptation is the spot-on portrayl of Jumpin’ and Mabel. If there are any two people you would want looking after you as a child, it would be them, and Macer Jr. and Hyatt embody their warm, caring personalities so well.
Overall, Where the Crawdads Sing will make any romantic drama enthusiast happy. Will it please fans of the book? Possibly. Or maybe the shiny Hollywood glean will be too much for them, too (maybe that’s something to do with Hello Sunshine’s Reese Witherspoon producing it?…).