One of the most hotly anticipated movie adaptations of the year, Where the Crawdads Sing is an intriguing Southern thriller based on Delia Owens’ 2018 best-selling novel.
Delia Owens’ novel Where the Crawdads Sing – which has now sold more than 12 million copies – immediately attracted celebrity fans, with Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine company snapping up the production rights and Taylor Swift subsequently recording an original song, Carolina, for the movie’s soundtrack.
Named for the crawfish found in southern US swamplands, it’s the story of Kya, a girl left to raise herself in the North Carolina marshlands after her abusive father leaves. Her only real friend is a local boy named Tate (Taylor John Smith), although even he leaves after a while.
All alone, Kya briefly dates local playboy and athlete Chase (Harris Dickinson), becoming the main suspect after he is found dead.
The role of Kya would typically attract thousands of young actresses, although Crawdads’ director Olivia Newman quickly settled on British actress Daisy Edgar-Jones, best known for her roles in TV shows Cold Feet, Normal People and War of the Worlds.
Recalling how she had become enchanted by Edgar-Jones during the early days of the pandemic, Newman tells STACK, “At the time, life was so dark, and I said, ‘I really need a good romance.’ I just need to fall in love. That’s what I want to be feeling right now. A friend asked if I’d seen Normal People, and it was exactly what I needed. To go through that falling in love experience through Daisy’s incredible performance was like medicine for the soul.
“So when her name came up when we first started talking about who was going to play Kya, I was like ‘I love this young actress!’”
However, Newman was uncertain if the young Brit would be able to handle the Southern accent.
“Kya is very different from [Daisy’s] role in Normal People. But, I have to say, her first reading brought all of us to tears, including Delia, because it felt like we were watching Kya’s voice come out of this beautiful British actress. It felt like Kya was just emerging from her mouth,” says Newman, who insisted on the author being there for every step of the filmmaking process.
Hiring almost all-female heads of department, Newman felt it was vital to really showcase the nature and the marshes, so beautifully described in Owens’ book.
“I think that Delia’s scientific voice is one of the things that is so unique about the storytelling in the novel, and it was so important that we capture Kya’s world, the marsh and the swamps and the different textures of those backdrops really specifically.”
When they weren’t all being eaten alive by mosquitoes or subjected to deluges of rain, which sometimes lasted for days, flooding the sets, Newman and cinematographer Polly Morgan looked to Jane Campion for inspiration.
“We looked at Terrence Malick’s work, and we looked at Jane Campion’s work; the way she captured the landscape in The Piano, and of course The Power of the Dog wasn’t out yet. So we looked at our great heroes and how they painted that portrait of landscape as its own character when we were talking about how we wanted to shoot the marsh,” she explains.
With such a huge following for the book, naturally Newman is daunted at the prospect of her film adaptation living up to everyone’s expectations.
“Every time I tell someone which movie I’ve been working on and they say, ‘Oh, that was my favourite book’, my stomach turns,” she laughs nervously.
“But the book is incredible. I hope that everybody reads the book. The book is what I fell in love with and I hope that people will feel like they were transported when they see the movie in a similar way they were transported when they read the book. I wanted to make sure the movie captured that same emotional journey, and I think it does.”
• Where the Crawdads Sing is in cinemas now