War of the Worlds (2019) – First look Episode 1

**There will be spoilers, if you’ve not watched episode 1 then come back after you’ve watched it. **

War of the Worlds is one of the most well known Science Fiction stories, written by H.G. Wells in 1897 his novel has been adapted across media many times. The much mentioned Orson Wells radio broadcast (with the Panic myth), the 1950’s George Pal film, Jeff Wayne’s Musical and Steven Speilberg’s 2005 film are all adaptations that many will have heard of. In all of these adaptations surprisingly no film or TV production has actually made a version set in the Edwardian era like the book. In fact other than some audio books or radio plays the most accurate version is probably Jeff Wayne’s musical one.

The original book touches on themes of British Imperialism and how caught up people are in their own affairs which makes it an interesting story to adapt. I was really excited when I found out the BBC were doing a version of this seminal work that was actually set in the original time period. Written by Peter Harness this adaptation was originally due to be released at Christmas 2018, filming though wasn’t finished until May 2019 so had to be delayed. BBC productions although always good quality can be hit and miss, the 2009 version of the Day of the Triffids was a poor attempt whereas the 1981 version was a well done faithful adaptation. It sometimes feels that in modern productions considerations of how it will view and sell in other territories is over thought, rather than concentrating on what the BBC, when on form is historically good at which is great storytelling.

One thing I do find it strange as a BBC production it was released in both Canada and New Zealand in October, where as the first episode was broadcast in the U.K. on the 17th November. I am making a guess that this was something to do with deals struck with the production companies involved. As this was primarily made for the British market this is a strange turn of events and reinforces that they were thinking about international sales above all else. The problem I can see for the British viewer is that they were forming judgements from reviews early rather than making their own minds up, this wouldn’t have happened if they focused on their primary market. I, as normal haven’t read any reviews and won’t until the mini series has had its 3 episode run so I don’t affect my viewing.

Now onto my personal thoughts on the first episode, remember spoilers are coming so if you don’t want any go and make a cup of tea. I may jump around the narrative a little bit but stick with me. It is as always difficult to judge an entire story from one episode, initially it feels as with the majority of BBC dramas the production values are high. We open up with a version of the famous opening lines of the Book being spoken with female voice setting a creepy initial atmosphere.

H.G. Wells original story is told from the first person point of view of an unnamed man. To expand the adaptation in the first episode we see the story from 3 main points of view, George who is the main protagonist, Amy who is George’s girlfriend (I’ll come to that later) and Frederick, George’s brother who is based in London.

The source material does not really have any female characters, the wife is mentioned but she is quickly packed off to Leatherhead and a Mrs Epinstone makes a short appearance. I can understand the need to introduce a strong female character to the narrative. This is achieved by the character of Amy who as I said above is George’s ‘Girlfriend’. I was a little confused at why they didn’t just make her his wife but make the part more substantial and inclusive, or they could have gone done the lines of having a female lead protagonist which would have been an interesting take. What the writers decided to do instead though is create this seemingly strange narrative about George being in a loveless marriage and leaving his wife for Amy, therefore creating a scandal and affecting his standing within society. The first 30 minutes seem to be basically taken up with this story line and it feels strange and a little out of place. There was a few short pieces of the meteor landing and Olgivy the Astronomer examining it, in reality though the first 30 minutes didn’t feel like the story was progressing. Imagine how that 30 minutes could of been used for a better purpose, as far as we know it’s not integral to the story so wasted valuable time.

We do see initially a meeting with Oglivy the Astronomer as he watches dust clouds launch from Mars, there is very little sense of time between that and the meteor landing (in the book it was months). The examination of the meteor and the Martians waking is done in a slightly unexpected way. A large black globe seems to rise and throw off flakes of some dust which incinerates people as it touches them. We do get to finally see a Martian War Machine (Tripod) towards the end of the episode and they look really good. I do hope we get to see groups of them striding across the countryside in later episodes as it’s an iconic scene. The initial scale of destruction around Woking when the War Machine appears feels small scale, I’m not sure if this was on purpose but it would have been good to make it feel larger and maybe more cinematic.

Towards the end of the first episode there is a conversation between Amy and Frederick (Georges brother), Amy and George got separated in Woking as the Martian War Machine attacked. The conversation is a little more about the scandal but Amy announces that she is pregnant, there is then a time jump clarifying some seemingly random images that were dropped in earlier in the episode. The jump I’m guessing is several years later showing Amy with a child (in a barren landscape) around 4 or 5 years of age still looking for George. I am hoping in episode two that the reason for the first 30 minutes of social scandal will make a little sense. Are we, in subsequent episodes going to see the story from two different points in time? If this is the case it needs to be done well and add to the story. Alternatively this could just be a possible future and how things could end up? Either way it makes the next episode seem intriguing.

In an acting standpoint Robert Carlyle plays Ogilvy the astronomer and he does a good strong performance but I can’t help thinking that an actor of his calibre was a little wasted, expanding his role could have been an interesting way to go. I am basing this on the fact he is dead from what they have shown, if that is the case they didn’t do him nor the character justice as it was strange they didn’t really refer to him after the meteor opened. You would think there would be more than a passing mention given Amy was just working closely with him and a friend too?

The main leads, Eleanor Tomlinson and Rafe Spall do solid performances with the script. The script did feel weird and clunky in places with the shoe-horning of the ‘Scandal’ plot line and the lack of empathy with the maid. The problem as I see it was that the Scandal plot line is not what viewers tuned in for, it would be easy to lose viewers who thought they had tuned into an Edwardian Melodrama by mistake. The pace could have been easily increased to pull viewers in, it was only really in the last 20 minutes that it started focusing on what the story is about. The last 10 minutes did get intriguing with the aforementioned time jump making me want to see what is going to happen, the show did in my opinion need to do more a lot earlier. To be honest it lost my wife and I in the first 30 minutes and was only after that when it started to tell the story that we were there for.

In a sum up I think it’s an interesting take on a classic story. It has lots of ambition which needs to be taken to push forward the narrative. I am hoping the second episode will start pulling it all together, that the unnecessary parts we saw will have a purpose or if not that they focus on the main story line. In reality what I am doing here is the equivalent of judging a film based on the 1st third so it’s difficult to give an overall opinion. There are many films that don’t pull you in to start with but given time they surprise you, I am hoping this adaptation will be exactly that as I feel like it has a lot of promise. I will do a round up after the final episode so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Next Episode: War of the Worlds (2019) – Conclusion

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