REVIEWED: EPISODE 1 | WHERE TO WATCH: SKY, SKY GO, NOWTV (FROM MARCH 5TH)
It’s realistic to believe that the premise at the heart of H.G. Wells’ classic science-fiction tale is well known. There will be those who may never have seen a small screen version, somehow missed Steven Spielberg’s underrated 2005 film starring Tom Cruise, or for whom Jeff Wayne’s epic musical is something entirely unknown. And yet some things permeate into our cultural subconscious: terrifying tripods leading an invasion of Earth, for instance. But for this new joint Anglo-French production, Howard Overman (creator of Misfits and Atlantis) has stripped back the action in favour of character-driven bleakness more in the style of The Walking Dead than Independence Day.
When a signal from space is identified by a French observatory, it leads to a chain of events that leaves vast swathes of the world’s population dead. Desperate survivors seek both answers and shelter as the attack continues.
In deviating initially from much of what his audience knows about the source material Overman has created something refreshingly original, but that still draws upon key themes. A helpless population, an attack from a superior intelligence, unbridled fear… everything that makes War of the Worlds what we know it to be is still here. But in this contemporary setting, with the drama split between England and France, the story is a much more intimate affair.
Within the first episode we are introduced to several unconnected characters each with their own small, inherently personal stories. Gabriel Byrne’s scientist, unable to move on from his failed marriage, is forlorn and flawed. Natasha Little’s mother is struggling to hold herself together for her two children, one of whom is blind and fighting her own internal demons. Bayo Gbadamosi’s illegal refugee whose own position perhaps now reflects humanity’s new future. All very much internalised struggles and it will be interesting to see how the series balances these stories against a world now challenged by an alien attack and subsequent invasion.
While this new imagining is both reverent and original in concept, the true test will come through how the story progresses. With such a renowned tale, how much Overman and the writers choose to adhere to certain literary plot points while advancing their take on such an apocalyptic event will ultimately decide the success or failure of the series. For now, it is an interesting counterpoint to the position taken in the recent BBC adaptation, and through the darker aesthetic and style is initially more interesting.
With the success of recent dramas such as Chernobyl, there is clearly an appetite for darkly intricate, dramatic television. And while this version of War of the Worlds takes a similar approach, it remains to be seen if can truly be set alongside such elevated company.