, Stephen King’s ‘Lisey’s Story’ adaptation is a dark mystery that takes a while to find its feet, The Nzuchi News Forbes

Stephen King’s ‘Lisey’s Story’ adaptation is a dark mystery that takes a while to find its feet

Anyone who’s ever picked up a Stephen King novel will know that his stories — and the subtleties within those stories — often play out through the minds of the main characters. When we read his books, we’re embedded in the brains of his creations, for better or worse.

Lisey’s Story is a prime example of this. King’s book, released in 2006, plays out as much through the titular character’s emotions and memories as it does through its narrative twists, and the result is a brilliantly immersive novel told through the lens of a well-drawn heroine. The question is, how do you take a novel that’s so closely filtered through one character’s thoughts, translate this for the screen, and turn it into a watchable TV show?

Going into the new Apple TV+ adaptation of Lisey’s Story, directed by Pablo Larraín and written for the screen by King himself, this was my biggest worry. I thought it might be a hard one to adapt for TV. The book jumps around so much in time and unpacks so many complicated repressed memories that surely it would be a minefield for anyone to portray in a different format.

Well, after the first two episodes, it seemed like my fears might be realised. Although they were beautifully shot, the episodes were messy and fragmented, with the story pivoting back and forth so quickly that the whole thing ended up being hard to follow. Four episodes in — the total number that reviewers were given access to — things are starting to take better shape. The series has begun to find its feet. As to whether or not it will end up being a recommendable adaptation of one of King’s most interesting novels (with one of his best endings), though, the jury’s still out.

, Stephen King’s ‘Lisey’s Story’ adaptation is a dark mystery that takes a while to find its feet, The Nzuchi News Forbes

“Lisey’s Story” has some beautiful cinematography.

Image: apple tv+

Lisey’s Story follows Lisey Landon (Julianne Moore), the widow of famous horror author Scott Landon (Clive Owen), in the aftermath of her husband’s death. Lisey is struggling to sort through Scott’s study, and when she stumbles across a post-it note from him she’s thrown into a kind of posthumous treasure hunt that leads her to unlock repressed memories of their relationship.

It’s a story about marriage, writing, and fame, and it’s not hard to see why King’s previously said that it’s one of his favourites. It’s also easy to understand why he wanted to be more directly involved in its adaptation than usual. As King told Vanity Fair, Lisey’s Story draws on his own experiences from his marriage to novelist Tabitha King. Being such a personal tale, he likely wanted to ensure that the TV version stayed true to the source material.

, Stephen King’s ‘Lisey’s Story’ adaptation is a dark mystery that takes a while to find its feet, The Nzuchi News Forbes

And in that sense, at least, Lisey’s Story is a success. Events in the show run closely to events in the novel, and the series has been brought to life with the same level of imaginative detail that made the book so immersive. King’s well-drawn characters shine through in his teleplays, and it’s clear that his gift for drawing out the emotions of his creations — making them empathetic and multi-dimensional — hasn’t been lost in the jump from book to screen.

The TV show has other successes, too: Scott’s dark childhood is just as brutally well-drawn in the show as it is in the novel, and the cinematography of Darius Khondji (known for his work on Se7en and Okja) is on-point throughout. As for the performances, the villain of the piece, obsessive stalker Jim Dooley (played with a dead-eyed stare by Dane DeHaan) is suitably chilling, and although I was worried he might wear a little thin by the second episode he actually grows more interesting (and disturbing) as the show progresses. Clive Owen, meanwhile, really captures Scott Landon’s vacant vulnerability, and Julianne Moore successfully brings to life the complex main character of Lisey, who is at once tough, resourceful, and grief-stricken.

, Stephen King’s ‘Lisey’s Story’ adaptation is a dark mystery that takes a while to find its feet, The Nzuchi News Forbes

Dane DeHaan in full creep mode as obsessive fan Jim Dooley.

Image: apple tv+

In short, there are a lot of positives. But, at least in the first two episodes, these are hampered by the show’s pacing. We jump between different time settings (and worlds) so quickly that it’s hard to latch on to anything, both emotionally (in terms of building a relationship with the characters) and sometimes literally — there are a few details, like the word “bool” (a synonym for “scavenger hunt” that comes from Scott’s childhood) that I felt I only understood because I’d read the novel. As I’ve mentioned, these issues start to smooth out in the third and fourth episodes — but the bumpy start may be off-putting to some viewers.

Then again, maybe that’s fitting. The book required work, too. Just like the broken fragments of Lisey’s memory, the story takes a while to come together. The pieces are scattered at the beginning, with the reader forced to go on their own scavenger hunt in order to put them together. It’s worth it in the end.

As for whether or not the TV adaptation will be, it’s still too early to tell — but I’ll certainly be sticking around to find out.

Lisey’s Story arrives on Apple TV+ on June 4. You can watch the trailer here.

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