Review: ‘The War of the Worlds’ is a thoughtful, Edwardian adventure

The War of the Worlds is a classic story that has been adapted numerous times. Whether your favourite is the Orson Welles radio drama, the Tom Cruise/Steven Spielberg adaptation, or Independence Day this is clearly a story you’ve seen before.

What’s interesting though is that despite the many adaptations there are precious few that take place within the time frame of the original written story. Which is one of the two refreshing changes with this thoughtful adaptation of the story produced by the BBC and airing on T+E in Canada.

If you’re expecting an action blockbuster I’m telling you that you should temper those expectations right now, this adaptation is a thoughtful slow burn more concerned with the effect the invasion would have than the invasion itself. That is to say, it’s pretty good.

The three-episode series is set in Edwardian England. Tensions are high with Russia and the government is banging on the war drum. Our main characters, George (Rafe Spall) and Amy (Eleanor Tomlinson) are in love but living in sin and as a result,​ are pariah in the strict English society of the time.

As the series opens George and Amy are visiting their eccentric scientist neighbour, Ogilvy (Robert Carlyle) as they observe several odd eruptions on Mars though an oversized telescope. He’s an outsider as well, something they have all bonded over.

In the days that follow a large meteorite lands near the village. Ogilvy, the scientist goes to investigate and George and Amy (a reporter and a scientist) come with. If you’ve seen any version of the story you know what comes next: aliens in giant tripods emerge and start decimating the country.

As in all versions of the story, there is little to no hope against the might of the Martian machines. The rest of the story then takes place in two timelines: during the invasion and several years later in the aftermath.

During the invasion, we see characters desperate to escape and survive. The imagery here leans on a great many historical and pop culture references. There’s a standout scene on a beach that deliberately invokes the evacuation at Dunkirk and a great sequence in a house as the characters try to survive as the Martians are hunting them.

In the aftermath, we see every post-apocalypse​ from Mad Max (and every imitator it inspired) to now.

While the main story takes its cues pretty closely from the original work don’t expect to know all the answers. There are a couple of nice twists on the story that spin the events in a unique way. The Martians themselves are well designed and scary, too. Most often aliens are made to look humanoid with some small distinguishing features but these ones are completely alien and that’s a nice change of pace. The effects are consistent throughout as well, there’s no one big setpiece they clearly blew the budget on.

War of the Worlds

Each of the three main cast members are good, Safe Spall and Robert Carlyle are reliable, but the series is basically Tomlinson’s. Amy is the lead character throughout, and her character has the most emotional weight to bear. There are a few scenes that could have drifted into the absurd without her and basically​ every moment of hope or heartbreak comes from her as well.

Whichever version of The War of the Worlds is your favourite, this one has something to offer you. There is some standout action, some great acting, and scary bad guys. It’s definitely worth checking out.

The series run has concluded on T+E in Canada but if you missed it you have a couple of options: T+E will be repeating the entire series on Sunday, 3rd November and the whole series is already available on iTunes.