Appellate Judge James A. Stewart trusts golems.
"When you look at me like that, I wish I was a better man."—Moist von Lipwig, to Adora Belle Dearheart
With Going Postal, author Terry Pratchett introduced a new protagonist to Discworld, his humorous alternate reality. There are a lot of Discworld novels, but the introduction of roguish postmaster Moist von Lipwig makes Terry Pratchett's Going Postal a good introduction to Discworld.
Facts of the Case
Albert Spangler has hanged for his phony bonds, but he's not dead yet. Lord Vetinari (Charles Dance, Game of Thrones), the ruler of Discworld, offers to give Spangler a new life with a new identity if he'll take on the job of postmaster, reviving Ankh-Morpork's dead post office. Spangler at first tries to escape the job and the identity of Moist von Lipwig (Richard Coyle, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time), but his golem parole officer soon brings him back to Ankh-Morpork. However, it's not until he meets Adora Belle Dearheart (Claire Foy, Season of the Witch), whose father lost his network of communications clacks in the bond crisis, that Spangler started that von Lipwig decides to take on the clacks, now run by the evil Reacher Gilt (David Suchet, Agatha Christie's Poirot), and rebuild the postal system.
As with Hogfather, something strange happens to Terry Pratchett's novel on the way to the TV screen. Most of the plot is intact, but there's something in the tone that changes. The over-the-top funny novel actually turns out exciting and romantic as a TV miniseries. While Pratchett's emphasis was on the satire, director Jon Jones hits hardest with Moist von Lipwig's redemption and the romance between Lipwig and Adora Belle Dearheart. There's humor there, but as Jones himself points out in the commentary, a lot of the stuff from the novel just goes by without much explanation or detail. Jones recommends that viewers also pick up the novel; I'll second that and go further to say that it feels like a completely different experience.
It helps that Richard Coyle makes a fantastic roguish hero. He has just enough of the heroic Simon Templar type to carry the action scenes, but there's more of an air of the theatrical huckster that reminded me of Barnum or The Music Man. That enchanting style as he talks to crowds, befriends his staffers, or challenges Reacher Gilt makes you root for Moist von Lipwig. At the same time, Lipwig's dreams—shown here in silent-movie style—show his inner struggle. Lipwig's dealings with two other rogues also bring out his character. His battles with Gilt make you realize how much the two rivals think alike, only Lipwig's deceptions are for the good of Ankh-Morpork instead of for selfish gain. Meanwhile, Charles Dance makes the menacing Lord Vetinari into an unlikely mentor for the fledging upstanding citizen.
There's also a struggling romance with Adora Belle Dearheart, who runs the Golem Trust. On the surface, at least, she's honest and serious where Lipwig is devious and lighthearted. However, she eventually reveals a trick that she hopes will bring down the clacks to avenge her father and a brother who died mysteriously. The changes in Lipwig's character are brought out in the contrast between her skeptical reactions and the increasingly trusting reactions of the golems, who cannot be manipulated; it's Mr. Pump, the golem parole officer, who plays matchmaker between Lipwig and Dearheart. On the DVD extras, you'll hear a lot about how strong Claire Foy's performance is. Instead of listening to that, just look at the difference between Foy in character and Foy doing interviews.
This is a new branch of Discworld's mythology, but in addition to Lord Vetinari, fans of the books will find werewolf policewoman Angua, Unseen University chief wizard Mustrum Ridcully (Timothy West, Bleak House), and vampire photojournalist Otto among the characters. Andrew Sachs (Fawlty Towers) plays a veteran postman who gets new life from Lipwig's arrival. Late in the story, watch for the introduction of three clacks "crackers," played as a combination of the Lone Gunmen from The X-Files and Larry, Darryl, and Darryl from Newhart.
Jones discusses the production in detail in the commentary, explaining how clacks work, how Coyle learned magic for the role, how many letters (around 300,000) were in the post office, and the difficulties of location shooting in Hungary. The most interesting thing among the extras was a collection of some of the props, ads, and publications glimpsed in Going Postal. You'll also find fans who were extras talking about what it was like to see a favorite story brought to life by familiar actors, including Suchet, Sachs, and Tamsin Grieg (Black Books). Terry Pratchett introduces the movie.
Moist von Lipwig is a colorful character, at one point donning a gold suit, and his brightness comes across well in the DVD transfer, as does the bouncy score.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While Going Postal looks good, there were a lot of times when it just didn't look like the Discworld I'd imagined. If you're a Discworld fan, you know there's just been a lot to imagine—and imaginations vary.
If you're a fan of Terry Pratchett, you'll want to see Going Postal; even if it isn't exactly Going Postal, it's about as close as you can get. If you haven't read the book, you'll find an exciting story in its own right. With director Jon Jones talking about how he tried to re-create the world of the novels, it's possible he put even more of a stamp on the story than even he realized.
If you've never been to Discworld, you need to book passage.
Not guilty. You won't wish for a better miniseries.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
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