Go­ing back to the Wells

The War Of The Worlds has been adapted count­less times. what makes the bbc’s new take dif­fer­ent?

Empire (UK) - - PREVIEW - Owen williams

It’s the first Bri­tish adap­ta­tion

De­spite its her­itage, there has never be­fore been a sig­nif­i­cant Bri­tish adap­ta­tion of The War Of The Worlds. This new BBC minis­eries brings it back to home turf — and pro­vides in­trigu­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to play up more con­tem­po­rary themes, ac­cord­ing to di­rec­tor Craig Viveiros and screen­writer Peter Har­ness. “It’s set right at the high point of the Bri­tish Em­pire,” Har­ness tells us. “We’re think­ing a lot about what it means to be Bri­tish at the mo­ment.”

It’s more pro­gres­sive

Shift­ing the time pe­riod for­ward slightly — from the Vic­to­rian era of H. G. Wells’ orig­i­nal to early 20th cen­tury Ed­war­dian — the adap­ta­tion also seizes the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore a time when the suffragette move­ment was be­gin­ning to take hold. Eleanor Tom­lin­son plays Amy, a char­ac­ter left be­hind early in the novel, but here pro­moted to pro­tag­o­nist. “She’s lead­ing the se­ries,” Tom­lin­son tells us proudly. “She doesn’t just want to stay in­side and choose wall­pa­per and look pretty in dresses — she’s in­ter­ested in the stars and plan­ets. She might be a damsel, but she isn’t in dis­tress.”

It’s a unique genre hy­brid

Out­side of the odd Doc­tor Who episode, it’s rare to see sci-fi mounted as pe­riod cos­tume drama. Har­ness says he likes play­ing with those mash-up el­e­ments. “It’s easy to for­get it’s a very bru­tal and scary book,” he ex­plains. “It’s not a cosy piece of Vic­to­ri­ana. It’s gen­uinely un­set­tling, and that’s what I wanted to put on screen. I’m hop­ing to at­tract a pe­riod drama au­di­ence and a sci-fi/hor­ror au­di­ence.”

It’s got Block­buster dna

It may only be on a BBC bud­get, but this War Of The Worlds doesn’t scrimp on scale. Viveiros worked with con­cept artist Dan Walker (Prometheus, The Mar­tian) on the de­sign of the alien war ma­chines. “A Tri­pod might have been scary in the Vic­to­rian era when the in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion was round the cor­ner,” says Viveiros, “but now it’s not enough.” On-screen they’ll ap­pear taller than Big Ben, thanks to ma­jor VFX work. The show’s male lead Rafe Spall, who cut his block­buster teeth on Prometheus and Juras­sic World: Fallen King­dom, knows by now how to re­act to block­buster scale. “I just make this face,” he ex­plains, af­fect­ing awestruck, “and look up.”

top: Ge­orge (Rafe Spall) and Amy (Eleanor Tom­lin­son) make a run for it. here: Tom­lin­son’s stunt dou­ble.

Em­pire vis­ited the rain-sod­den set of The War Of The Worlds at Formby beach, near liver­pool on 24 april.

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