HG Wells clas­sic The War Of The WOrlds Has been adapted for tHe small screen. ian berri­man talks to Writer peter Har­ness

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There are few sci-fi stories the gen­eral pub­lic are as fa­mil­iar with as hg wells’s alien in­va­sion clas­sic The War Of The Worlds. or­son welles, ge­orge pal, Jeff wayne and steven spiel­berg have all adapted wells’s 1898 novel – usu­ally trans­plant­ing his heat ray-wield­ing Mar­tian tripods to the usa. now a three-part, blighty-based tV ver­sion is on its way, star­ring rafe spall and Poldark’s eleanor tom­lin­son. Doc­tor Who writer peter har­ness (“the Zy­gon in­va­sion”) is the man re­spon­si­ble. so how has he man­aged to make a story with such fa­mil­iar el­e­ments feel fresh?

“Maybe i haven’t!” har­ness laughs. “Just tak­ing those things that ev­ery­body knows about and think­ing how to do them in a way that still gives peo­ple what they want, and half what they ex­pect, but is go­ing to be sur­pris­ing.”

the big dif­fer­ence about this ver­sion is that it’s no mod­ern-day up­date, but a pe­riod piece, set in ed­war­dian eng­land.

“i think set­ting it at the turn of the cen­tury gives it a big­ger at­mos­phere,” har­ness ex­plains. “it makes it like a Vic­to­rian ghost story. this is what we’re af­ter: smoke, and sparse­ness, and weird shapes rather than ket­tles walk­ing around on legs fir­ing laser beams. all those things, we tried to do in a slightly dif­fer­ent way. i wanted it to feel like a hor­ror film too, be­cause i don’t think that’s what peo­ple will be ex­pect­ing.”

if that seems a sur­pris­ing choice, re­mem­ber that there’s no short­age of hor­rific in­ci­dent to in­clude. wells’s book may be 120 years old, but it’s no cosy old relic.

“things get covered in throw­away lines, which if you see them are pretty hor­ri­fy­ing,” har­ness points out. “like the stam­pede from the heat ray – peo­ple are get­ting tram­pled to death. that doesn’t look like much on the page, but when you ac­tu­ally see it it’s pretty ter­ri­fy­ing.”

as the writer notes, it’s also a book with po­lit­i­cal sub­texts which still res­onate to­day.

“that was one of the reasons i set it at that time,” he ex­plains. “it was the height of the em­pire, but when it started to die off. wells says in the book, ‘what must it have been like to be one of the na­tives of tan­za­nia when we ap­peared with our guns and bombs?’ there are par­al­lels with na­tion­al­ist pol­i­tics as well, and what it’s like to be sub­jected to chem­i­cal weapons at­tacks just sit­ting in your own home. so it can’t help but feel a bit po­lit­i­cal! i might be slightly old-fash­ioned, but i think sci-fi ex­ists to tell stories about our world which are en­ter­tain­ing, but give you a slightly more thought­ful per­spec­tive.”

The War Of The Worlds will air on BBC One some­time in 2019.

Eleanor Tom­lin­son and Rafe Spall star.

The story takes us back to Ed­war­dian Eng­land.

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