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Enthralling and thought-provoking; PICKS OF THE DAY.

Editor's pick CATCH-22 (Channel 4, 9pm) Big things were expected when the latest adaptation of Catch-22 was announced.

But it had a lot to live up to - the seminal source novel, of course, as well as the 1970 movie version directed by Mike Nichols and starring such luminaries as Alan Arkin, Orson Welles and Anthony Perkins.

The new adaptation was shown in the US before it reached our shores, and advance word was decidedly mixed. American viewers and critics were rather lukewarm about the entire endeavour, despite the fact it was backed by George Clooney, who remains a popular figure on both sides of the Atlantic.

So it was with some trepidation that viewers tuned into the first episode on Channel 4 a couple of weeks ago, but they needn't have been concerned - so far, the run has turned out to be just as enthralling, thought-provoking, heart-breaking and amusing as we'd hoped it would be.

Clooney is an executive producer, director and star of the project.

He's also a huge fan of Joseph Heller's book and was keen to get the tone just right. In fact, he admits he and his film-making partner Grant Heslov had reservations about getting involved.

"Of course we did! We're not stupid!" he laughs. "You don't like taking on beloved novels. It was certainly a seminal book - if you Google 'greatest American novels' it's usually up there. So we knew it was a big challenge, and when I was asked I initially said no.

"And then they sent me these teleplays and as I was reading them I thought, 'two years ago I read 80 scripts that were sent to me to direct and I passed on all of them, because if you're going to be spending a year and a half of your life on something, you want it to be a decent script.' And these were good scripts."

"Heller was writing this book, of course it's fiction, but he was probably writing about his own experiences, and the banter that went on in the Second World War with some of the men," adds Christopher Abbott, who plays Yossarian, the central character who is desperate to find a way out of the conflict. "But it feels as if the writers, Luke Davies and David Michod, have kind of adapted it for a modern audience."

Abbott is perhaps best known in the UK for his supporting role in three seasons of Girls, but Catch-22 is set to boost his profile, and he admits to feeling the pressure of leading a series packed full of more recognisable faces.

"And also there was pressure because this book is in the zeitgeist in American literature," explains Abbott. "He's a very beloved character who stands for a lot of things for a lot of people. But at a certain point I had to let that go, as it would have done nothing but inhibit me."

These days we're used to every success having a sequel; even The Handmaid's Tale has expanded from Margaret Atwood's original story. Does that mean there could be a Catch-23? "Heller wrote Closing Time, which picks up with Yossarian and some of the other characters 50 years later," says Abbott. "Maybe I'll film that - in 50 years."

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Publication:Express and Star (Wolverhampton, England)
Date:Jul 11, 2019
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