Movies made from bestsellers rarely live up to their literary origins. Happily, “Where The Crawdads Sing” (*** OUT OF ****) qualifies as an exception to the rule. Although it doesn’t wade into either the marsh or the characters as deeply as Delia Owens’ enthralling novel, “Crawdads” provides a lush visual as well as dramatic depiction of the words which inspired it.

Moreover, watching a gifted cast flesh out their literary counterparts generates a stronger impression of the tragic twists and turns in this yarn. Actors Taylor John Smith as Kya’s first love and Harris Dickinson as Chase Andrews provide a strong physical presence lacking in the book.

Newcomer Daisy Edgar-Jones radiates charismatic innocence as Catherine Danielle Clark, the woebegone but stubborn ‘marsh girl.’ Apart from several tv mini-series, the London born actress has appeared in only two theatrical releases: “Pond Life” (2018) and “Fresh” (2022), but she brings a spontaneity to her character.

Class prejudice aimed at the less fortunate, rather than racial prejudice, smolders throughout this 125-minute, PG-13 rated, murder mystery. The bigots in the fictional town of Barkley Cove, North Carolina, display flagrant contempt for our penniless protagonist.

Cleverly, director Olivia Newman and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” scribe Lucy Alibar pay tribute to the landmark murder melodrama “To Kill A Mockingbird” (1962). The courtroom in “Where The Crawdads Sing” bears an uncanny resemblance to the one in “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

Like Tom Robinson in “Mockingbird,’ Kya guilt seems a foregone conclusion on the part of the jury. Kya’s attorney Tom Milton (David Strathairn) is a homage to Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch!

Few deserve as much sympathy as Catherine Danielle Clark. Literally, she was doomed from the womb. The youngest sibling in her family, Kya watched in sorrow as her alcoholic father, Pa (Garret Dillahunt of “Ambulance”), drove her mother and four siblings from their home.

Miraculously, Kya managed to weather Pa’s abuse. Somehow, they share common ground. Pa shows Kya how to survive in the marsh, especially on its plentiful sources of sustenance. After Pa’s departure, Kya takes his boat to a nearby marina for supplies. A black couple, Jumpin’ (Sterling Macer Jr of “Double Take”) and his wife Mabel (Michael Hyatt of “Foster Boy”), own the marina/grocery store combo.

Hashing out business with Jumpin,’ Kya sells him fresh mussels from the marsh. She sells enough to get by on grits and keep her boat tanked up. Mabel tires of seeing Kya go barefoot and comes up with her some second-hand shoes and a dress for school. Kya’s first day in class is such a disaster she never returns. Living alone in the marsh, she learns how to elude truant officers.

Eventually, she encounters Tate again. Earlier, he had saved her when she got herself lost in the marsh. Not only does Tate teach Kya how to read, but he also brings her books. Eventually, Tate leaves Kya behind for college. On the rebound, she takes up with Chase Andrews, a lying, cheating, double-crossing Adonis with no shame.

Their romance fueled town’s gossip. Is it any surprise then when  Chase is found face down dead in the mud that everybody in Barkley Cove suspects Kya killed him?

“Crawdads” feels like a gripping “Perry Mason” TV episode during its courtroom scenes. As the prosecutor assembles his case against Kya, the defense dismantles it. Tom Milton reminds the jury the prosecution has no evidence directly linking the accused to Chase Andrews’ murder.

Although courtroom scenes often degenerate into verbal tennis matches, director Olivia Newman keeps these scenes both brisk and efficient.  Furthermore, the repartee between Tom Milton and Eric Chastain antes up the suspense.

Chastain goes to extremes to implicate and convict Kya of Chase’s murder. Although he has no basis for his charges, the prosecutor plays on the jury’s prejudice against Kya for utmost impact, until Milton shames the community for making an outcast of Kya.

Gradually, public sentiment mounts for Kya. Jumpin’ and Mabel are allowed to sit in the white section of the courtroom. Eventually, Tate and his father along with Kya’s older brother Jodie show up. Although the feline doesn’t appear in the courtroom, Sunday Justice—the stray cat living in the courthouse basin–visits Kya in her jail cell.

Repeatedly, Milton implores her to take a plea bargain with a lesser sentence than face the death penalty. Stubborn girl to the end, Kya refuses. Entertaining as Newman’s cinematic adaptation is, “Where The Crawdads Sing” does sacrifice a plethora of details.

But those details would have increased the film’s two hour plus length to perhaps three hours. Altogether, “Where the Crawdads Sing” retains more than enough of the novel to keep both moviegoers and readers happy.

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