Broadcast: 22-27 December on Radio Four
Director: Dirk Maggs
Cast: Peter Serafinowicz, Mark Heap, Colin Morgan, Charlotte Ritchie
It’s a tricky business, bringing a much-loved book to life on screen or radio. Teasing out the essence of the story, changing it to fit a new medium and bring a new audience while keeping what made it great and not alienating the fans… it’s a difficult balance, and one we’re not sure this Radio Four adaptation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s 1990 novel completely achieves.
Armageddon is approaching, and the Antichrist is in the world – though thanks to an unfortunate mix-up at the maternity hospital 11 years ago, no one knows exactly where he is. The angel Aziraphale and demon Crowley are meant to help hurry things along, but over the millennia they’ve grown to quite like this world, so are secretly trying to prevent Armageddon while not attracting the attention of their superiors. Predicting everything that’s to happen along the way is The Nice And Accurate Prophecies Of Agnes Nutter, Witch, a handy if opaque guide to events written by a psychic 17th century witch.
It’s a lot to cram in, and the adaptation copes with this by following the book very closely – there’s not much left out, and the precise, witty notes and descriptions are often turned verbatim into dialogue, not always successfully. The voice cast is great: Peter Serafinowicz is pitch perfect as Crowley, though Mark Heap is just a tad too fussy as Aziraphale. Clive Russell as Shadwell and Phil Davis as Hastur stand out, and a cameo from both the authors in the first episode is a treat.
This is a good adaptation of a great book. It’s just a shame it didn’t have the confidence to stamp more of its own personality on the source material.