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War of the World’s ‘narrator’ given name and loveless marriage backstory, in ‘woke’ BBC adaption

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War of the Worlds
War of the Worlds

Credit:
Ben Blackall

In 1938 when The War of the Worlds was broadcast on the radio, a wave of hysteria gripped listeners.

Church services were interrupted, traffic came to a standstill and adults, believing they had heard invading Martians, required medical treatment for shock.

The latest adaptation of H. G. Wells’ sci-fi classic is not expected to cause such a stir, but the BBC One drama may still raise a few eyebrows as its writer revealed it has been “updated” to include a leading female character who is having an affair with the book’s narrator – originally unnamed, now called George. 

Played by Poldark’s Eleanor Tomlinson, the leading lady ‘Amy’ also gets to deliver the “No one would have believed” introduction made famous in previous productions by Orson Welles, Richard Burton and Morgan Freeman. 

Writer Peter Harness said: “Whatever I write I try and focus on having a strong female lead in it because I think it should be the natural way of doing things.

Still from The War of the Worlds

Credit:
Matt Squire 

“In this adaptation George’s wife is the person that carries the narrative from beginning to end. I didn’t want to write another sci-fi series where a man is getting into scrapes and (like in the book), packs his wife away out of harm’s way and doesn’t see her until the very end.”

Tomlinson, perhaps unsurprisingly, agreed: “It was so refreshing to read Peter’s adaptation of the novel which has a woman at the core of the drama, a choice which I feel is where Peter’s adaptation really updates the book.” 

She described Amy as “ground breaking” for her time and a “modern woman compared to her acquaintances”.   

Still from War of The Worlds 

Key to the drama is her friendship with Ogilvy – who, unlike Amy and George is named in Wells’ original novel. But Ogilvy, who is played by Robert Carlyle, has also been updated. 

“The relationships between Amy, George and Ogilvy’s stem from the fact they are all considered pariahs of the time,” said Tomlinson. “They don’t quite fit into society. It is alluded to that Ogilvy may even be a homosexual and that would have been illegal at that time.

“Each one of the characters, particularly Amy and Ogilvy, has this innate strength within them and we see them survive and build on that strength together. “I think we will be left with some pretty ground-breaking television.”  

Still from The War of The Worlds

Credit:
Rachel Joseph

The three part Sunday night drama, which starts at 9pm on Nov 17, has also been brought forward in time by five years, shifting the action from the late Victorian to early Edwardian period. Harness said this allows parallels to be drawn with the modern day.  

“By doing this we can explore what crossovers there are regarding politics, invasion, colonialism and empire building,” he said. Rafe Spall, who plays George, added:

“There is one particular scene where George correlates empire and colonialism to the Martian invasion and the massacre of humankind. I think that is one of the things that Peter has brought to this adaptation in order to make it resonate to today’s audiences.

“It’s very easy to ignore and shut off from the news in faraway lands, but with Peter’s writing I feel that our story resonates with what we are seeing in our own politically charged world today.”  

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