About Me

My photo
Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Reviewing the Movie Adaptation of Louise Penny’s Still Life

Armand Gamache, Yvette Nichol and Jean-Guy Beauvoir in the
movie Still Life from the CBC
Earlier this year I wrote about Canadian author, Louise Penny, becoming a movie producer for the film being made of her first book, Still Life, in the Inspector Armand Gamache series primarily set in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.

The movie was telecast on the CBC last Sunday. While I was unable to watch the initial telecast Sharon and I were able to watch it online a few evenings later.

I enjoyed the movie but could not call it brilliant.

As in the books the fictional village of Three Pines entrances the viewer. The trees, dressed in autumn colours, set the scene. In the village the bistro / B &B of Gabi and Olivier is perfect. You want to get in the nearest car, train or plane to travel to the village and settle in at the inn with the local residents.

Among the police, Anthony Lemke as Jean-Guy Beauvoir, is a fine choice. While sometimes exasperated by Gamache he is a clever and dedicated officer.

Susanna Fournier as Detective Yvette Nichol, is suitably nasty and a good foil to all the other very correct officers.

Kate Hewlett as Clara Morrow, the aspiring artist and close friend to the murdered Jane Neal, is convincingly vulnerable. Penny, who has described the Clara of the books as herself should be pleased with the portrayal of Hewlett.

I regret that I still have a problem with the casting of Nathaniel Parker as Gamache. The urbane English accents of Parker do not work well with the character of a French Canadian police inspector. The producers provide an explanation for the English accent but it felt contrived.

I am still uneasy that I am being unfair about Parker because he does not fit my image of Gamache from reading all the books in the series.

For another view, John Doyle in his Globe & Mail review said:

While the Gamache character has some richness in the novels, on screen he’s bland. An honourable man, given to questioning authority, but lacking the sinew and muscle of a truly commanding character. There was some fuss made about an English actor being cast as Gamache, but it really doesn’t matter here – it’s all very much in the English tradition, really.

I do consider Parker a credible leader of the investigation and he is as comfortable in the village as the Gamache of the books.

In Longmire there was little connection with the book story lines, Still Life follows the plot of the book.

The movie has a Canadian pace and flavour. There is nary a car chase, shootout or sexual adventure. It has a quieter feel for plot than current American crime drama.

At the same time I found the movie choppy at times with limited character development. I think Still Life would have worked better in a mini-series format where there would be more time to explore the characters and the village.

I am glad I watched the movie and grateful it was respectful of the book from which it was drawn.

Readers can go to http://www.cbc.ca/player/Shows/ID/2406432208/ to watch the movie online.



  1. Bill - Thanks for your thoughtful discussion. Casting is so important I think, and I'm sorry to hear that Parker didn't work for you as Gamache. I can understand your reasoning too. And I've often thought that a mini-series would be a much better way to tell a mystery story than just one TV film. That said though, I do want to see this. Thanks

  2. I will probably watch this when I get a chance (when it comes out on DVD). But I share your misgivings about Nathaniel Parker with an English accent. I try to see adaptations as completely different stories because of those kinds of changes. It worked for me with Longmire, but a lot of that was because the character of the sheriff was retained. Not sure it will work here.

  3. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I think of movies as generally better suited to the telling of short stories rather than full length books.

  4. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. I wish I could approach adaptations as you do in considering them completely different. It is hardest when I do not see a major character cast as I have imagined them. As I stated in a post on the series I thought Robert Taylor was an excellent choice for Walt Longmire.

  5. Good review, Bill. I managed to see this last week thanks to another fellow blogger in Canada and his technowizardry with uploading videos to Google Drive.

    I think this is a perfect example of a TV movie adaptation sticking too closely to the source material and failing. I didn't really like much of it. There were bits and pieces of it that worked (the actress who played Yvette was perfect!) but it was pretty uneven. So many of the supporting characters get short shrift. Overall, I disliked nearly every choice of actor, especially the woman who played Clara who I think is a very weak actress (her skills are rudimentary for such a complex role). I have such a strong picture of how Three Pines should look and here we don’t get the idea that it's a sort of magical place. It looked like a quaint English village, not a French Canadian haven for misfits. The ending of the book is particularly weak and descends into near self-parody with all its melodrama. With the movie there was an opportunity to improve on that, but IMO it only worsened with a cartoonish interpretation of a madman by the actor playing the murderer and a poorly lit and staged action sequence.

    I'm hoping for improvement if there is another, but only if they find a new scriptwriter and if Penny is willing to have her story re-worked for film. What's on the page doesn't always translate to live action.

  6. John: Thanks for your frank assessment of the movie. I appreciate your thoughts. As my review indicates I liked the movie better than yourself. On the movie following the book too closely I will have to do some thinking. It is not a common problem in most adaptions.

  7. I was pleased to learn that Nathaniel Parker was cast as Gamache, although I admit I imagined Gamache, less handsome and a bit older. As far as his accent (which I will not hear until it is released in October here in the States), I can only remind everyone that Clark Gable refused to play the roll of Rhett Butler with a South Carolina accent, and that movie turned out just fine!
    Love these novels and look forward to October!

  8. From the photo, Nathaniel Parker is not at all the man I visualize when I'm reading the novels so of I'm really looking forward to seeing the movie in October. Penny's writing always makes me feel as if I'm standing invisibly inside each setting watching everything slowly unfold.

  9. They should have hired an English director used to filming mysteries like Midsomer Murders or the Miss Marple series. They can establish a village setting in a very few establishing shots and then introduce all the eccentric characters one by one before the true mystery kicks in. Something so important in the Penny books, establishing the uniqueness of Three Pines. Something is adaptation failed miserably at.

  10. I am an avid reader of Louise penny novels. I found "Still Life" very lacking in reality. The casting was unfortunate, just Ruth and Beauvoir were believable. The rest of the cast were too young for the roles they played.
    The books are delightful, don't mess with them.

  11. What miscasting! Gamache is considerably older and more fatherly in the books. Parker is too young and has no fatherly quality. The relationship with Beauvoir just doesn't work here. Such a shame. Theirs is such a complex relationship and it requires someone who looks and acts senior to make it work.
    I wish I hadn't ever seen it; I want to go back to my old mental images!
    I have mostly listened to the series being read by the wonderful Ralph Cosham for Blackstone Audio. His voice is rich and he inflects ever so very slightly to do each voice. I am sad to learn that he has passed away. I don't know who they'll get next to read... a hard act to follow.

    1. lynnkie: Thanks for the comment. I have not listened to any of the books as audio books.

  12. Replies
    1. Unknown: I accidentally removed your content. If you want to comment again I will make sure to keep it posted.

  13. I recently discovered Louise Penny's books. Imagine my delight when I found out that there was a TV adaptation of "Still Life". I watched the movie a week after I finished the book. I was very disappointed. I agree with the comment upthread that the casting was mostly wrong. Why couldn't they have cast French Canadian actors as Gamache and Beauvoir? We had a very English man playing Gamache and a very Anglo Canadian man playing Beauvoir. The actors playing Clara and Peter were much too young. They were in their 30s. They should have been in their 50s.

    Beyond the casting, my issue with the movie is that everything just seemed so rushed. If I hadn't read the book I think I would have had a hard time figuring out what was happening. The ending was particularly awful. We spent 75 minutes watching this mystery unfold and then all of a sudden it was like Clara said "15 minutes left, let's wrap this up, I know the answer!"

    If there are future movies (are there any in development?) I agree that a miniseries is a better format.

    1. Evan: Thanks for the comment. I do not know if there are any future movies to be filmed. There was an option to film the second book but I have not read anything about it being produced.

  14. I have not yet watched the movie, but I just finished How the Light Gets in and have thoroughly enjoyed all of Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache books. I don't think I would be truly happy with any casting decisions, as they won't fit the images in my head. I don't yet understand why Parker's accent was so troubling to people - the books reveal that Gamache was educated in England and therefore has a British accent. Perhaps his manuerisms come across as more English than French Canadian? I hesitate to take the plunge and watch the film...

    1. Nancy S.: Thanks for the comment. I did not recall Gamache being educated in England in the books. I recall an explanation in the movie to justify the accent. To me Gamache is a distinguished French Canadian. Parker is a distinguished Englishman. I cannot precisely describe the difference but Parker never felt French Canadian in the movie.

  15. Thanks for your reply. I keep thinking of the movie and I think I will watch it soon.
    This is an interesting article about the man who narrates the audio books:

    1. Nancy S.: Thanks for the further comment. I have not listened to Cosham. I will try to listen to one of his recordings.

      I am not sure if you know but he died shortly after the story appeared in The Washington Post.

  16. I am a huge fan of Louise Penny. The characters and plot develop from book to book so I could imagine a l8ng and well developed series. Casting should be more adventurous. Ruth should be allowed her abusive naughty language. Clara needs a bit of the wild artist. I think it is OK for Myra to be overweight. Gamache's sidekick needs to have a broody quality that makes his later descent into drug abuse believable. Gamache s wife should be smart and a little sassy. I hope to see another try at this.

  17. Hi, I've been enthralled with Louise Penny's series and the wonderful Chief Inspector Armand Gamache throughout. So rich, artistic and deeply skilled at characterization and Life.

    I have not seen the movie, but when I heard Nathaniel Parker was playing the role of The Chief my first thought was.. what a shame! I'm afraid I've never been very impressed with Nathaniel Parker's acting skills and to cast him as such a venerable and August character as Detective Gamache is a missed opportunity. I'll not watch the movie in the hope there will be a spot-on production of Louise Penny's Three Pines mystery series in the future.

    Fingers crossed