Lethal White TV Production: Louise’s Review of the Bronte Strike 4 Adaptation

We interrupt the fascinating discussion of Troubled Blood for a brief review of another recent Cormoran Strike release:  the Bronte Film and Television production of Lethal White for the BBC. It premiered on August 30 in the UK, and, at four episodes, was the longest Strike season to date. The most notable bit of casting was Robert Glenister, brilliant narrator of all five Strike audiobooks, as Jasper Chiswell. We Yanks haven’t had official access to the production yet, though it, like the other Strike series, will presumably turn up on Cinemax.

But, a YouTuber calling himself Nikolas Ravenclaw has posted all four episodes (with Greek subtitles) as well as the two Career of Evil episodes. US Strike fans might be well-advised to seek it out before the copyright police step in.

I have watched the series a couple of times and have written out my impressions here after the jump.  Many spoilers ahead!

Lethal White, though dwarfed by Troubled Blood, was substantially longer than the previous three books, hence the expansion to four episodes. Even with that, as with Career of Evil, lots of the story had to be cut to fit the storyline into four hours of TV.

Perhaps more than any of the other shows, the Lethal White TV show rearranges the order of book events.

For instance, the discovery of the pink-blanket-wrapped bones occurs at the end of the first episode, though Robin only confirms that they are bones before she and Strike are forced to flee the scene thanks to the savage guard dogs. Izzy reveals that the bones are those of a “pet” midway through the series, and the truth of his memory is explained to Billy Knight before Robin’s abduction by Raff. This shuffling of order, presumably done with Rowling’s approval, as executive producer, was necessary to streamline the mystery.

There were also some major shifts in character roles. Jimmy Knight is a far more menacing villain who becomes suspicious of Robin’s presence at Flick’s party, Googles the name “Cunliffe” and lands on a wedding announcement that identifies Robin as working for Strike. She is forced to flee from the party to avoid a physical attack from him, which doesn’t help her PTSD. In fact, it is a threatening call from Jimmy, not Geraint Wynn, that triggers Robin’s panic attack on the verge. One the the best visual effects of the series was, BTW, seeing Holiday Granger in her full Goth look for her undercover work at the story, though her name was mysteriously changed to “Becca Cunliffe” rather than Bobbi.

Geraint Winn is a far more sympathetic character in the series than he is in the book, coming across, by the end, not so much as a lecherous old man but a grieving father racked with guilt over pushing his daughter into hobnobbing with the upper class and not being able to save her from  Freddie Chiswell’s abuse.

Only his theft from the charity is uncovered, and, though he is a bit creepy towards Robin in the ministry, the sexual advances towards his daughter’s friends are not mentioned. Geraint is more motivated by his daughter’s death than he is by political rivalry. We actually wind up feeling sorrier for him than for his wife Della, despite the strong performance by blind actress Anna Cannings.

Other major changes:  No Olympic backdrop (waaaaah! my greatest prediction triumph, gone!) , only a brief reference that Jimmy Knight’s band of radicals is threatening to disrupt Wimbledon. Jasper Chiswell is informed of the charity fraud at the Paralympic Ball, and confronts Winn then and there, effectively satisfying himself. He has summoned Strike and Robin to his flat to offer them more work, not to fire them, when they find him dead. And the ghost of Freddy Chiswell is even worse than in the book, if that is possible: the pony he shoots was not his late step-grandmother’s, but Raff’s and he shot it while Raff was riding it.

What is much less altered in this series is the romantic subplots: though some details are omitted, both Strike and Lorelei’s, and Robin and Matthew’s unfold generally as in the books. The series does pick up at the wedding, and Robin does leave her first dance to speak to Strike, though their hug is not on the stairs. It is explicit that she calls Strike from the honeymoon to tell him she intends to leave the Flobberworm, though she reaches Lorelei, not Coco, then goes up to find Matthew sickened by the seaborne bacteria. The Flobberworm, as before, is portrayed as more sympathetic:  though he does rip Robin’s dress in the aftermath of the ball, he apologizes and has it repaired later.

Robin also makes it clear that she knows Sarah Shagsalot left the earring in the bed deliberately; something that is not revealed to readers until Troubled Blood. As for Lorelei, she gets to deliver her classic “There are restaurants, and brothels” line in person, not by text, and in front of Robin, no less. Awkward. 

Overall, I liked the series, even with the deviations from the book.  I find it interesting that Rowling, who presumably had some say in the screenplay, as executive producer, chooses to streamline the mystery and keep the romance more authentic. What will be interesting to see is how many episodes the Powers that Be will decide are needed to do Troubled Blood justice.



  1. Thank you for writing this, Louise. I feel simultaneously like I don’t need to watch it now that I’ve read all the things that could possibly interest me and that I want to because you’ve made it sound so inviting!

    Three quick notes:

    (1) I love the changes made so that Raff is on the pony when it is shot and that Lorelei gives Strike her analysis of his failings with respect to women live and in front of Robin.

    (2) I am curious about the kinder, gentler representation of Matt Cunliffe in the Bronte adaptation, especially in light of his appearance after the mediation hearing in Troubled Blood. Could there be a future for him after he realizes how he has been manipulated into divorce and marriage by Sarah as a friend to Robin and Cormoran? That teevee-Robin realizes what Sarah is doing vis a vis the earring makes credible Matt’s assertion that the affair is over, no?

    (3) That the super-leftist black-mailer Knight rather than the establishment figure Geraint is made the threatening villain of the piece is curious, too, especially if Raff becomes an understandable, that is, ‘credibly motivated’ patricide. It seems Bronte studios with Rowling’s permission or guidance made changes to provide a few more sympathetic figures in the adaptation?

    The only questions I have would be about the painting that in the book is Raff’s motivation for the seduction of his step-mother and staging the suicide of his father. Do we get a visit to Chiswell manor if they re-ordered and altered the exhumation of the pony scene? What about Rattenbury the Wonder Dog, Louise, one of your best Lethal White finds? Was he cut out?

    Regardless, thank you again for this book-to-screen review with your thumbs up, thumbs down review of the changes. Given Rowling’s involvement and her returning more than once in her only Troubled Blood interview to express her delight with the teevee adaptations, we are obliged to assume that they can be used as pointers to directions that may be taken in future books. Rowling has to signal more obviously, I’d think, where she intends to go in the capsulized version of her books than in the reader experience.

  2. Louise Freeman says

    Alas, no “Shut up, Rattenbury!” The dogs that chased Strike and Robin away were far larger than a Norfolk terrier.
    Yes, there were two visits to Chiswell house, the visit with the full family at the start of the death investigation, and Strike and Robin’s final, when Robin sneaks upstairs. She finds, not only the hidden Stubbs, but a photo of young Raff in a riding outfit with the pony. But, in the absence of the digging mission, they just turn up to question Kinvara about the Knight brother’s claim.

Speak Your Mind