**** SPOILER ALERT **** The following contains plot details from the new BBC adaptation of War Of The Worlds by HG Wells.
War Of The Worlds is without doubt the most well known of HG Wells’ books. It’s certainly not the only one to ever be adapted for the screen, but if you ask anyone to name a book by HG Wells this is the one that springs to mind. What has been lacking though is a “classic” adaptation. From the radio show in 1938 to Tom Cruise’s film 2005 every adaptation has been contemporary. Arguably the most famous adaptation was the 1950’s adaptation that brought the Martians into the atomic age, with the Martian tripods replaced by flying ships and energy shields that could withstand a nuclear blast. The only classic adaptation that I can remember was a woefully bad version that used CGI that looked about 20 years out of date by Pendragon Pictures in 2005.
Cue 2019 and the BBC have brought us the classic adaptation that everyone has been waiting for. Well almost, for some strange reason it’s set in the early C20th, rather than the last years of the C19th. It’s a small stylistic distinction that makes no sense given that anything that distinguishes between the time periods in question is irrelevant. The reason for the shift in time is the incorporation of the attack on British fishermen by the Russian navy in 1904, but to this casual observer there is nothing to distinguish the years before or after the turn of the century, except this solitary incident. It genuinely adds nothing to the story apart from enabling a sense of saber rattling within the corridors of power as they try to understand if the Martian invasion is actually of Russian origin or not. As it’s set prior to the Bolshevik Revolution it does diminish the ability to use the term “red menace” as a pun so it’s probably for the best that it very quickly diminishes to the background as a plot device.
For the purists however there are further changes to the original story that jar. The original protagonist was a married man, his brother a student in London. Fast forward and now we have a disgraced journalist with an aristocratic background, and his wife is replaced by a pregnant dilettante with whom he is having an affair. The astronomer Ogilvy is also given a C21st makeover heavily hinting that his affection for the local pariah couple is that he himself is seen as an outcast of society. While it’s not absolutely stated, the hints are there that he is gay, describing himself as being of an older, yet single persuasion, with a fondness for being well dressed. Our protagonist’s brother is also transposed from the universities of London to become a high-ranking member of the Government in the Admiralty. Lastly there are scenes of what one is at first led to believe is Mars, but by the end of the first episode are actually revealed to be of Earth, but of a future Earth that is inhospitable and destroyed, transformed into a Mars like atmosphere. At once this tells you many things that should remain unknown until the end. You know the dilettante survives. You know that somehow the Martians are defeated, but at a terrible cost. And you know that the journalist is lost. I can only assume that there is a second story being weaved amongst the main story-line of her search for her lover amongst the ruins of London, but it distracts from the main tale.
Overall it’s a good adaptation, if changed to reflect a more modern style. It’s not the first time that main characters in a story have been replaced, or created entirely from scratch to give a modern take on morality. It just seems that too many changes have been made for the sake of modernity. Do we need the main protagonist to be having an affair with the rebellious dilettante? Or for the astronomer to be gay? At least the latter is done with a care to the minor details, and not delivered with the blunt hammer that is the love triangle between George, Amy, and the neglected wife Lucy. And from the casting it’s also a shame that the most likeable character in the first episode is also one of the shortest lived. It remains to be seen if the next 2 episodes will be as good without Robert Carlyle’s Ogilvy.