Life & Culture

Where the Crawdads Sing film review: A sanitised adaptation of Delia Owens's 2018 bestseller

Normal People's Daisy Edgar-Jones puts in a good performance but it can't rescue a movie that fails to truly grasp both the era and the region it is set in


Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) in Columbia Pictures' WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING.

Cert 15 | ★★✩✩✩

Normal People’s Daisy Edgar-Jones, Harris Dickinson (Beach Rats) and Taylor John Smith (Sharp Objects) star in this glossy adaptation of Delia Owens’s 2018 bestselling novel of the same name from American director Olivia Newman.

The film was produced by Reese Witherspoon’s production company Hello Sunshine — the actor had earlier made Owens’s book into an instant hit after selecting it as part of her hugely influential book club.

The setting is the American South in the 1950s. Kaya Clark (Jojo Regina) is a young girl living in the South Carolina Marsh, an area of outstanding beauty where she spends her days studying nature and sketching birds, insects and plants.

First deserted by her downtrodden mother, Kaya is gradually abandoned by the rest of her siblings who depart one by one. When her alcoholic father fails to return home one night, the girl must learn to fend for herself with the help of local shop-keeping couple Mabel and Jumpin’ (played by Sterling Macer Jr and Michael Hyatt).

Later, all grown-up Kaya (played by Edgar-Jones) finds solace in her friendship with studious childhood friend Tate Walker (Smith) who teaches her to read and write. But when he has to leave for College, a heartbroken Kaya finds solace in the arms of local bad boy Chase Andrews (Dickinson).

Then Kaya’s life is thrown into a tail-spin when a body is discovered not too far from her home, making her the main suspect.

One has to wonder how Londoner Edgar-Jones, an actor who seemed to define a whole era with her role in Normal People, ended up being cast in a role which would have clearly been more suited for a young American actor.

While not exactly out of her depth — she puts in a good performance — the young British actor makes for a very clean and impeccably dressed “marsh girl” and in the end, the whole thing comes across as more Nicholas Sparks romance (The Notebook, Dear John) than To Kill a Mockingbird.

Overall, there is a distinct sense that Where The Crawdads Sing has failed to truly grasp both the era and the region it is set in. There’s a worrying myopia around some pertinent race issues linked to two of its protagonists.

Overall one can’t help but notice that Newman’s adaptation feels too clean, too glossy and too neatly packed to be in any way plausible, even with a fair amount of suspension of disbelief, and that is essentially the movie’s main issue.

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