At the start of 2019, the BBC’s forthcoming new adaptation of HG Wells’ classic story The War of the World was one of the productions featured in the ‘coming soon’ preview showreel, tantalising fans with the promise of the first screen version of the tale to be set in the original time and location. But after that it seemed to disappear off the face of the earth; rather than popping up as expected in the spring schedules it disappeared into thin air leaving everyone wondering what had happened.
The BBC subsequently explained that the Visual FX work was taking longer than expected, but even when it started to be shown in overseas territories it was still striking that there wasn’t a peep about when it would receive its UK broadcast. When it was finally scheduled at the end of November it was set for Sunday nights at 9pm putting it opposite the ITV reality ratings powerhouse I’m a Celebrity… – making it look like the BBC had lost all confidence in the production and was trying to push it out the backdoor when no one was looking. Unfortunately we were looking, and what we saw only confirmed those worst fears.
The first of the three hour-long episodes is slow and stodgy as it tries to establish its lead characters, Eleanor Tomlinson as Amy and Rafe Spall as George. The big problem here is that the source novel doesn’t really do characters: written as a first person account, the narrator isn’t even named in the book. At one point the account switches to his brother who is fleeing in the Martian invasion on the other side of London, and who is similarly unnamed. Crucially there are few female characters at all in the story, with the narrator’s wife packed off to relatives in Leatherhead at the outset of the Martian invasion. Two other women are present, only there to be saved by the narrator’s brother. In the enlightened 21st century, a television production with no significant female leads with any sort of agency is simply not tenable.
Perhaps writer Peter Harness could have got away with simply making the narrator a woman. Instead he creates an unnecessarily complicated back story, based on Wells’ own domestic life at the time, in which timid journalist George is married and seeking a divorce from his wife while scandalously living with his lover Amy in Woking, making them social outcasts. Even George’s government official brother Frederick (Rupert Graves) vehemently disapproves, resulting in a family schism. It’s a way of criticising the uptight Edwardian conventions of the period, but the soapy story drags down the narrative – and once the Martians arrive this whole plot evaporates in subsequent episodes and is barely mentioned again. So what was the point of that, then? Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve always been surprised by the runaway popular success of BBC One’s Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Doctor John Watson.
It really does take the mantra of ‘smart is the new sexy’ to a whole new level and goes places that are so supremely ambitious that they become indistinguishable from the pretentious and self-indulgent a lot of the time. That makes it very much my sort of show, but I’m surprised it appeals to the mass audience anywhere near as widely as it apparently does if viewing figures are to be believed. The latest 90-minute special entitled “The Abominable Bride” was certainly one of the biggest and most hyped attractions of the BBC’s 2015 Christmas and New Year schedules and its importance was reflected by a near-simultaneous broadcast in the US on the same day.
Co-written by the show’s co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, you can see the DNA contributed by both parents: the dizzyingly complex plotting we’re familiar with from Moffat that twists past and modern strands together with frightening ambition, and the more viscerally pleasing Gothic horror sensibilities of Gatiss who also appears on screen as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft – the smarter of the Holmes boys. Read the rest of this entry »