The new Netflix show Lockwood and Co. is spooky, cozy, inventive, and just plain fun to watch. So, what are you waiting for?
In Lockwood and Co., there is an alternate version of Britain that diverged from ours about 50 years ago, when it began to be plagued by ghosts that only young people could see. In the present day, the world looks markedly different from our own—rather than internet and cell phones, society’s innovation focused on protection from ghosts, so people carry silver rapiers and magnesium flares rather than smartphones. And though society relies entirely on tween ghostbusters to keep them safe, there is no shortage of opportunity for young people to be exploited and taken advantage of.
The five books that this is based on, by Jonathan Stroud, are stellar and well worth a read. In my humble opinion, Stroud is among the very best writers publishing books today, and perhaps the most exciting to follow due to the new worlds and series he continues to craft. Much of what works in the Netflix series derives from the source material: the masterful world-building, the lovable characters, and the powerful relationships. Stroud, despite not writing the television series, deserves an enormous amount of credit here—and one can only hope that this series will lead to more readers discovering his books.
But excellent source material is no guarantor of a good adaptation for a visual medium. Cinema’s struggles dealing with source material like this can be seen in the red ink splashed across Hollywood’s financials ever since Harry Potter kickstarted the trend: Inkheart and Percy Jackson serve as two of the most vivid examples. We are still in the nascent days of TV adaptations, but thus far, the trend has leaned toward “loosely inspired” adaptations like Vampire Academy and Shadowhunters—shows that can be fun in their own right, but aren’t really delivering the story of the books to the screen.
And then there is Lockwood and Co. The eight-episode series faithfully adapts the first two books in Stroud’s pentalogy: The Screaming Staircase and The Whispering Skull. As an adaptation, it is flawless. Every important element of the books finds its way faithfully onto the screen. Yet the show also takes the opportunity to flesh out the world and introduce a few new elements to keep book readers on their toes. We may know some of the big secrets and twists coming our way, but we have no idea who the man with the golden rapier is, and it’s nice to be kept guessing! The show also gives protagonist Lucy Carlyle a fully fleshed out backstory that is both compelling and tragic, serving as a powerful emotional touchstone throughout the series.
One can always tell when an adaptation comes from true fans of the material, and Lockwood and Co. clearly stems from people who love the books. Joe Cornish, the creator of the TV series, said in an interview, “We are very cognisant of the fanbase that the book has. We consider ourselves part of it and it was important to us to get it as good as we could for the fans of the books.” His reverence for the source material can be seen in the lovingly recreated details on screen, and in the whole-hearted embrace of the series by book fans. Lockwood and Co. has instantly become the gold standard in book adaptations, and authors will no doubt clamor for Joe Cornish to adapt their books next.
Lockwood and Co. has world-building that is fairly straightforward—dangerous ghosts and teenage ghostbusters!—but it is fairly dense. The particulars of how ghosts operate, how fighting them works, the societal structure, and the history behind The Problem would be hard to convey on screen. There’s a good reason the books contain a glossary of terms in the back, and yet Cornish is more than up to the task. There’s some heavy lifting done in the opening credits, and some flashbacks to Lucy’s training in the first episode, and then he just brings the viewer along for the ride.
It’s not just the writing that’s superb on this show—every element of Lockwood and Co. is firing on all cylinders. The music is fantastic, and really helps set the mood of the show. The production design—costumes, sets, props—is all top-notch, and brings the world of the books to life in a beautiful way. The effects are really cool; considering the era of Netflix’s blank checks is over, the show’s effects are doubly impressive for looking as good as they do. And special kudos goes to the lighting department, which made sure the show is actually lit—it may take place at night and frequently in the dark, but you can always see what’s happening on screen!
And, of course, the iconic trio at the heart of the show is what makes the whole show sing. The three main characters were all cast and acted so perfectly, it’s like they leapt off the page. Ruby Stokes shines as protagonist Lucy, managing to convey both indomitable determination and aching vulnerability. As the character most emotionally affected by ghosts, there is a good number of close-ups of Stokes just acting as if she’s hearing or feeling spirits, and there are not many young actresses up to the task of making you believe there’s a storm of psychic activity happening in her mind.
Ali Hadji-Heshmati may not look like the George of the books, but he acts the part perfectly. George is both misanthropic and highly lovable—he’s prickly at first, but never to the point of turning off the viewer. Hadji-Heshmati absolutely registers that way—he may have his walls up at first, but once they come down, you just want to give the boy a hug. His intellectual curiosity and delight in research appeal to the nerdiest among us. And though the books came out before the pandemic, the series is being released post-pandemic, and George’s aversion to pants is now highly relatable.
Perhaps the trickiest role of the three, however, would be that of Anthony Lockwood. Cameron Chapman is a revelation in the title role, looking dashing in impeccably ironed shirts as he swings a rapier like he was born to it. Lockwood, as a character, would be so easy to make unlikable—he is reckless and arrogant and infuriatingly secretive. But Chapman also captures Lockwood’s charisma: one scene with him, and anyone would cheerfully follow him into battle. He also conveys how deeply Lockwood cares about his agency and his friends, and the depths of pain he has deep down.
The supporting cast is also really good, with not a weak link among them. But at the end of the day, it’s the core trio that sells the show. Stokes, Chapman, and Hadji-Heshmati all excel on their own, but in scenes where they’re together, it’s pure magic. Their chemistry seems lifted wholly from the books, and viewers will love getting to spend time with them as they banter and bicker and display true loyalty toward each other. There won’t be a dry eye at the moment Lucy says, “Portland Row is my home. You and George.” I think the trio of Lockwood and Co. can proudly take their place alongside Harry/Ron/Hermione and Percy/Annabeth/Grover, and viewers will come to care about them just as much.