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