Not being among the 12 million readers of Delia Owens’s 2018 novel Where the Crawdads Sing, I approached the film version in a state of ignorance about the title. Those unconvincing flocks of CGI birds swooping over the bayou during the opening credits… could they be crawdads?
The picture opens in 1969 with the discovery of the body of quarterback and bad-boy Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson) in the fictional Berkeley Cove, North Carolina. The likeliest culprit is Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones), who grew up alone in the marsh following an exodus of family members that anyone else would have taken personally. First her mother flees the abuse of Kya’s father. Then her siblings troop off as each one comes of age. Kya is left clutching a chicken, the characters here tending to fall into three types: kindly, malevolent or poultry.
In the first camp are the African-American shopkeepers, Mabel (Michael Hyatt) and Jumpin’ (Sterling Macer Jr), who encourage Kya to try her luck at school. She only lasts a day – and earns the nickname “Marsh Girl” – but on the way, she bumps into a lawyer, Tom Milton (David Strathairn), who is neither malevolent nor poultry. Who knows, perhaps there will be an occasion when she needs the services of a sympathetic attorney one day.
The action alternates between two timelines. In one is the trial itself, where the same thing keeps happening: a witness drops a bombshell, everyone gasps, the judge bangs his gavel. It’s fun watching the extras, who shake their heads in dismay and rhubarb furiously at the slightest provocation, bless them.
Flashbacks to Kya’s young adulthood, and the events leading up to Chase’s death, dominate the film. She narrates these with a combination of the homespun (“Fall gave way to winter, winter to spring, change the only constant in nature”) and the omniscient (how does she know what people talk about when she isn’t there?).
“Where the Crawdads Sing” is in cinemas from 22 July
[ See also: How did Netflix’s Persuasion get the novel so wrong? ]
This article appears in the 20 Jul 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Broken Party