I guess my longed-for period-authentic adaptation of H G Wells’ celebrated novel will have to go on a bit longer as writer Peter Harness shift the action a few decades forward, swapping Victorian hubris for Edwardian stiff-upper-lippedness and inserting an entirely unnecessary and distracting soap opera plot involving a broken marriage.
Amidst rising tensions with the Russians, a mysterious object falls from the skies and lands on Horsham Common, Woking, it piques the interest of local astronomer Ogilvy (Robert Carlyle) – who has been observing strange eruptions on the surface of Mars. Accompanied by his friends George (Rafe Spall) and Amy (Eleanor Tomlinson) he starts to examine the object, assuming it to be a meteorite. Their investigation is soon overtaken by officials from the Royal Astronomical Society but all the protocols and hierarchical posturing of the British Establishment prove no match for the object’s real contents.
There’s a sluggishness to the script in this first episode that seems to infect the cast, creating a curiously passive atmosphere and prompting numb performances from nearly everyone. Carlyle, at least, has a bit of life about him but Tomlinson is all teeth and slightly manic staring while Spall almost seems to be under sedation.
Despite the implied scandalous nature of George and Amy’s relationship, simmering geopolitical tensions and the looming threat of an alien invasion, there’s barely a shred of drama, dread or terror on show, even once the Martians make their presence and intentions known. People amble away from a levitating, sphere of spinning fiery death as if they were walking off a pub lunch and I’m not even sure if Rafe Spall’s journalist was even the slightest bit disturbed by the sight of the towering Martian tripod in the episodes closing moments. If he was he certainly didn’t show it.
Perhaps the Edwardian extras were simply underwhelmed by the special effects which look cheap and conspicuously, weightlessly digital. Or maybe it’s just that they’re as disengaged as I was by the astonishingly inept visual storytelling from director Craig Viveiros who seems as uninterested in articulating what’s going on as his characters are in acknowledging it.
There are curious flash-forwards which hint that this self-proclaimed ‘faithful to the tone and spirit of the book’ adaptation will make good on its promise of delivering a ‘contemporary twist’ but if the other two episodes of this limited series are as dull, lifeless and leadenly paced as this one, I might start hoping the twist is a swift and decisive victory for the Martians.
The chances of making the Martian invasion of Earth boring should be a million to one, but still…they managed it.