NEW WORLD ORDER
Dick’s K Philip acclaimed alt-history novel THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE is heading to the small screen. Jordan Farley joins the resistance...
w hat would the world look like if the Axis powers won World War Two? It’s a question that’s inspired dozens of dystopian alternate history tales across film, TV, literature and videogames. Philip K Dick’s classic novel The Man In The High Castle is arguably the best but, like the majority of Dick’s work, its brilliance went largely unrecognised when first published in 1962. Since his death, however, Dick has become one of SF’s most celebrated wordsmiths, one enthusiastically adapted for the screen by the world’s biggest filmmakers. Former X-Files writer and Man In The High Castle showrunner Frank Spotnitz puts that down to the author’s unparalleled prescience.
“I think his work is increasingly relevant. If anything it was too out there at the time for people to appreciate,” Spotnitz tells SFX from the middle of the busy show floor at New York Comic Con. “I still struggle with what the ending of The Man In The High Castle means, but the themes are so timeless and timely.”
The show’s turbulent journey to the screen saw it almost adapted as a four-part miniseries by both the BBC (in 2010) and Syfy (in 2013) before Amazon got hold of Spotnitz’s script. Released as part of the annual pilot season earlier this year, the first episode went on to be the streaming service’s most-watched pilot ever, eclipsing even Emmy-award-winning critical darling Transparent. In the transition to the screen Spotnitz made some key changes to the novel’s narrative, shifting the focus to double agent Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank), resistance recruit Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) and her boyfriend Frank Frink (Rupert Evans).
“In the book Juliana and Frank are already split up. I wanted to rewind a bit and see them in their relationship so that I had something I could care about and threaten, and then let Joe come in,” Spotnitz explains. “So it’s a love triangle where Juliana is between these two
men, but on a deeper level she’s between two different ways of looking at the world she’s in.”
Set in 1962, 15 years after the end of the war, The Man In The High Castle’s America is divided between the powerful Greater Nazi Reich, who occupy the East, the Japanese Pacific States in the West and the Neutral Rocky Mountain States in the middle. After her sister Trudy is murdered by Japanese police in San Francisco, Juliana assumes Trudy’s place in the resistance and risks execution to transport “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy” – a faux news reel depicting an Allied victory in WW2 – to Canon City in the neutral zone. Joe also appears to be working for the resistance and crosses paths with Juliana, before being revealed as a Nazi agent.
“My character has changed a lot,” says Kleintank. “In the book he’s a soldier and his eye’s on the prize, but here he’s conflicted a lot more with his mission.”
Joe reports to John Smith (Rufus Sewell) – a ruthless Nazi Obergruppenführer created for the show. But rather than a typical psychopathic blackshirt, Smith comes with complex cultural baggage. “What I was eager to do was not make him the stock Nazi,” Spotnitz explains. “He’s an American Nazi, a really good father, a really good husband, a good leader. Everyone looks up to him. It just so happens he’s a Nazi.”
“My concern after the pilot was that my character was some creation by the executives so that the story would have an overriding one-dimensional evil,” Sewell adds. “After reading episode two, which goes a lot more into his private life, and being assured that the point was to have someone who was a human being but represented a face of Nazism in America, then it became something interesting for me.”
One of the major characters missing from the pilot is antique shop owner Robert Childan, who trades in America’s heritage with the Japanese, including minor official Nobusuke Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). Spotnitz confirms that Childan will debut later in the
Rufus Sewell might play a character called John Smith, but he’s a ruthless Nazi.
Ed McCarthy (DJ Qualls) and Frank Frink (Rupert Evans) are fighting back.