Review: ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ remains faithful to bestselling novel

“Where the Crawdads Sing” is a new release and the feature film adaptation of the bestselling romance-mystery novel by the same name by Delia Owens. In the thriller, a young woman who grew up by herself in a marsh in the South is the prime suspect in a lover’s apparent murder.

"Where the Crawdads Sing" movie poster
"Where the Crawdads Sing" is the feature film adaption of Delia Owens' bestselling novel of the same name. The new release is playing at the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter and the Sunset Cinema in Jenkins.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER — Fans of the bestselling novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” can breathe a sigh of relief now that the feature film adaptation was recently released in movie theaters.

The two-hour movie remains faithful to the runaway bestseller by author and wildlife scientist Delia Owens, whose work was adapted to the big screen with help from Reese Witherspoon.

Like Owens’ book, the novelist's first that has remained on the New York Times bestseller list for an astonishing 170 weeks, the motion picture is a hodgepodge of genres.

The novel has already become part of today’s pop culture and whose allure may prove to be too irresistible for those with even passing knowledge of the publishing phenomenon.

"Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens
"Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens
Contributed / Brainerd Public Library

In the novel, Kya is a girl in North Carolina in the 1950s who is abandoned by her family and left to fend for herself in an arguably at times unforgiving marsh where she was initially raised in.


If one can suspend disbelief at a premise that includes a child growing up by themself, the plot makes it clear she is ostracized by the nearby town when she does venture past her bayou.

“The marsh girl,” as she is derisively called by the townfolk, comes under suspicion in her later years after a popular and well-to-do young man turns up dead after falling from a fire tower.

Harris Dickinson plays Chase Andrews, one of the good-looking suitors of Kya who is accustomed to getting everything he wants out of life but winds up dead when spurned by Kya.

Kya is played by relative newcomer Daisy Edgar-Jones, who has the daunting task of portraying the young woman on the silver screen as an enlightened “noble savage” of sorts.

The motion picture opens with Kya on trial for the murder of Andrews and their relationship is told through flashbacks in a way that is faithful to the novel that took Owens a decade to write.

Witherspoon the actress loved the work of fiction so much that she added it to her popular book club and produced the PG-13 movie that is part romance, part murder mystery.

"It just blew me away," Witherspoon recently said on the TV program “CBS Sunday Morning” on the press junket for the motion picture. "It felt like when I was reading ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ or just any sort of classic Southern literature."

Frank Lee
Frank Lee

“Where the Crawdads Sing” draws parallels to the author’s own life as a naturalist and wildlife conservationist, sometimes uncomfortably and disturbingly so.


Owens’ son is accused of killing an elephant poacher in Zambia in the 1990s when she, her ex-husband and son were in the region trying to protect the animal from ivory hunters.

The 73-year-old Owens remains wanted for questioning by Zambian authorities as a possible witness, co- conspirator and accessory to federal crimes, similar to Kya’s troubles with the law.

An ABC news crew following the work by the family in 1995 in Zambia astonishingly captured the execution of a suspected poacher; a cameraman claims Owens’ son pulled the trigger.

Shots are heard in the documentary-style footage, but the shooter of the unidentified man was never seen on camera, a body was never found and no one has been charged with a crime.

The British actress who plays Kya is involved in the film with Tate Walker, played by Taylor John Smith, and the movie was shot on location in the marshlands around New Orleans.

The love triangle and passionate romance of the new release at the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter and the Sunset Cinema in Jenkins is no doubt part of the draw among female moviegoers.

The murder mystery was more appealing, personally, particularly in today’s environment and apparent appetite for true crime such as TV’s “Cold Case” or legal dramas like “Law & Order.”

The film adaption of Owens’ bestselling novel brings to life the wild setting of the protagonist’s childhood, including the unsavory elements of abuse, trauma, neglect and abandonment.


As usual with movies adapted from written works, reception to the film has been mixed, perhaps due to the Herculean task of attempting to make a film that lives up to the readers’ imagination.

“Where the Crawdads Sing” currently holds a 34% approval rating among critics and a 96% approval rating among audiences at Rotten Tomatoes, a review-aggregation website for film and television.

The consensus from the audience at “A particular treat for viewers who love the book, ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ offers a faithfully told, well-acted story in a rich, beautifully filmed setting.”

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The weekly newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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