Why Isn't This A Film? - The Mystery Play

What have we got here then?

The Mystery Play. It’s a one-off graphic novel by Grant Morrison and Jon J Muth. Morrison is the storyteller behind things such as Batman, JLA and Hellblazer, Muth is an illustrator who’s work you might have seen before in one of Neil Gaiman's Sandman stories and Swamp Thing: Roots, amongst others.

OK fine. What’s it about?

A difficult question but the outline of the main story is that there’s been a murder in a small English village called Townely and Detective Sergeant Frank Carpenter has been dispatched from Manchester to investigate.

Interesting. Is there something more?

Well, the person murdered had been playing God in a biblical play the local town theatre group were putting on. Morrison uses this to build in themes on religion and its current place in society as well as some general questions on whether it’s possible to kill God and what the impact might be. Like any good Detective, Carpenter also has problems of his own and these are borne out during the course of the story.

Save me the trouble then – is it any good?

Hmm. The premise is initially interesting and when Morrison is examining religion, all be it only on a surface level, he obviously has things he wants to say and builds them in to the plot well. Muth’s illustrations are also quite remarkable, sometimes looking photo-realistic, other times building an otherworldly aesthetic from what looks like sweeping watercolours.


Well, the ‘blurb’ on the back describes the novel as ‘a descent into a hallucinatory world of guilt’ which is quite an apt summation: too quickly Morrison (along with Huth's visuals) moves to unexplained ambiguities which in a shortish story like this leave you guessing far too much. Whilst the story and the conclusion are cleverly woven together, it all feels a bit too vague and, even though that may well be part of the point, it feels like Morrison has perhaps forgotten to give us a hint here and there. The end is a bit too preachy and allusion-packed for its own good.

What are its chances of being made as a film?

The graphic novel was released in 1994 and there are currently no rumours or discussions immediately apparent about its chances of being adapted, which doesn't appear to make it the hottest property around. Who knows though, studios have visited back catalogs before and with Hollywood slowly draining many remake possibilities away, it's perhaps only a matter of time before someone somewhere stumbles across it.

Will it be any good?

Probably, yes. There’s definitely the potential there in the core plot although some of the biblical references, allusions and allegories will probably need to be left by the wayside for this to have mainstream appeal. The basic premise surrounding it though is easily good enough to make a compelling thriller. One of the key elements to success or failure would be the casting: Carpenter absolutely needs to be someone capable of having a dark edge. In the novel too, he’s at least forty, probably older and this would need to be maintained for everything to work. The other key character, a journalist called Annie Woolf, equally needs to be someone with substance: it wouldn’t work with a Keira Knightley or Scarlett Johanson in the part for example.

Anything else I should know about it?

If you're a fan of Morrison's particular brand of storytelling then it's worth knowing that he's currently working on a new series for the Batman franchise called The Return Of Bruce Wayne which IGN got a first look at a couple of weeks ago.

Why Isn't This A Film? is another new Film Intel feature which takes a book (you know... one of those things with pages in, doesn't project on to a screen, makes small rustling noises) comic or graphic novel and assesses its adaptation prospects. One day this feature will get something right and we will win something major and valuable. Possibly.


  1. Interesting. Sounds like a captivating story, but I find unless it's a period piece or a rather straight forward story, film adaptations get it wrong a lot of the time. Especially these days as movies try so hard to streamline everything.

  2. Yeah, I do largely agree with that. I don't have a problem with films streamlining things per se (I think it's often necessary), it just depends on which bits they streamline! There's a lot of streamlining that could/would actually make this a better book so if it is adapted and someone goes for those areas it could turn out to be a great film.