By Marine Saint, Deputy Editor 2022-23
The gripping adaptation of the hit bestseller Where the Crawdads Sing recently arrived in cinemas and faced the immediate challenge of living up to the hype surrounding Delia Owens’ much-loved novel. Part murder-mystery, part coming of age, Where the Crawdads Sing follows recluse Kya (or Marsh Girl as she’s infamously known in her small North Carolina town) as she learns of love, loss, and survival in her marshland home.
Although abandoned by her family and alienated by society, Kya, played brilliantly by Normal People’s Daisy Edgar Jones, builds a life for herself as a skilled naturalist and fierce protector of her marsh. When tragedy hits the local town Barkley Cove, Kya is the first to be blamed and is caught up in the murder investigation of Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson), with the support of lawyer Tom Milton (David Strathairn) determined to prove her innocence and uncover her turbulent past.
Fans of the book will remember how the structure switches between Kya’s formative years and the case's progress in 1969, interwoven with poetry and lyrical descriptions of the marsh’s landscape and creatures. Director Olivia Newman and Lucy Alibra’s screenplay captured the essence of the novel’s writing, making for a truthful adaptation with sweeping shots of the marshland, intricate hand-drawn illustrations of Kya’s book scattered across her home, and a haunting narration by Kya throughout navigating the time jumps.
As Kya tells her childhood friend and love interest Tate (Taylor John Smith) while learning to read, ‘I wasn't aware that words could hold so much’, we are reminded that it is no small feat for the film to live up to the significant impact of Owens’ book. While there was a definite Hollywood edge to the film, in pushing the drama of the murder trial and somewhat glamourisation of the protagonist’s isolated existence, it must be said that the visual imagery lent itself well to this extraordinary tale of survival.
A key aspect of this film which translated most poignantly to the audience was a resounding feeling of longing and the disappointment Kya suffered from so many of the male figures in her life. From escaping the violence of father, toxicity of her former lover, and the cruelty of her town, Kya’s cathartic survival from neglect and abuse teaches us that her ultimate freedom comes away from the constant violence of man and within the care of nature.
Newman’s film hones in on the prey-predator dynamic with Kya’s lilting account of her wildlife knowledge carefully balanced with clues surrounding the case. In addition, viewers can expect to feel the palpable chemistry between Kya and the two young men in her life, Tate and Chase. Whilst the casting of Smith and Dickinson had the potential for confusion with their similar appearances, the portrayal of their contrasting relationships with Kya brought her experiences with different types of love to life.
Attention has also been given to the film’s moving score, featuring an original song Carolina by Taylor Swift, which echoes throughout the film in stripped-back motifs. The music and film work in synthesis: both are faithful adaptations and appreciations of the book.
Where the Crawdads Sing was perhaps not the all-encompassing wilderness which defines Kya’s life in Owens’ novel, but as a film, it takes its ultimate truths and nonetheless promises escapism and visceral storytelling.
Featured Image: IMDB
Did you feel that Newman's adaptation did the book justice?