J.K. Rowling, who famously wrote the Harry Potter series, took a step back from the world of wizardry to focus on adult fiction with her novel, The Casual Vacancy, which was quickly adapted for television.
Set in the suburban town of Pagford, the plot begins when an admired member of the parish council, Barry Fairbrother (Rory Kinnear), meets an untimely death. It paves the way for a local election, which stirs the interest of a handful of town’s folk.
Howard Mollison (Michael Gambon), a notorious snob, and his wife, Shirley (Julia McKenzie), force their son Miles (Rufus Jones) to run for council. If he wins, they plan to make him reverse Fairbrother’s decision to keep the local council estate as part of Pagford.
Miles is a complete pushover, and his wife Samantha (Keeley Hawes) struggles to cope with her controlling in-laws as well as trying to zest up her marriage.
In an interview prior to the release of The Casual Vacancy box set, Hawes gave an insight into her character.
“Miles and Samantha are not in a great place when we meet them,” she explained. “Their marriage is in a very bad way. That’s really down to his relationship with his mother and his father. He is a mummy’s boy, but he’s gone too far and now they are using him and pushing him forward in this election.”
Samantha is a strong-willed woman whose troubling past comes back to haunt her when the election starts to takes a toll on family life. When asked about her approach to the character, Hawes revealed: “When I read the books I was very keen that she should be very large-breasted. I think that’s a major part of Sam’s personality.”
“She’s probably gone to these lengths at some point, when keeping things alive, when she started her underwear boutique. It’s all part of this look. They’re not in keeping with the rest of her, in the same way that she’s not in keeping really with the rest of Pagford. I was very keen on keeping that from the book. The outfit Samantha wears is all very top-end but it looks very cheap.”
Rowling and director Jonny Campbell made the TV mini-series very relatable for the audience, particularly through Samantha, who conveys the struggle for approval that many people experience with their in-laws.
“I’ve got so much sympathy for her,” Hawes admits. “She’s really stuck. She loves her husband and it is something still worth saving. It’s not a total loss. She’s just being railroaded at every turn by these very strong characters. They live in a house which has been owned by Miles’ parents. Even the house they live in is down to them.”
The Casual Vacancy is out now on Blu-ray and DVD.