The War of the Worlds Review – An alien invasion thriller that’s affecting and sensitive

Srivathsan Nadadhur

The War of the Worlds, an alien invasion thriller, adapted from the HG Wells classic written nearly a century and a half ago, feels strangely comforting in an hour where the globe is confronting an unknown enemy beyond comprehension. The show is deeply affecting because it doesn’t merely try to be a catastrophe-specific narrative and is more focused on the human reaction to the event. Despite the mumbo jumbo and the scientific jargon about the coming of the Martians on the earth, The War of the Worlds feels immensely personal. It presents the vulnerable nature of the human psyche when someone is pushed to the walls and shows how one miraculously finds hope in the unlikeliest of situations.

Spanning three episodes that last barely 50 minutes each, The War of the Worlds is a crisp, well-packaged show, elevated by its meticulous attention to detail and exquisite performances. Set in England of the early 1900s, the show’s pivotal characters are the journalist George (Rafe Spall) and his partner Amy (Eleanor Tomlinson). The latter is an assistant to scientist Ogilvy (Robert Carlyle). George’s equation with his elder brother Frederick (who’s part of the minister’s team in London) has been on the rocks lately, while his ex-wife is yet to grant him a divorce. Compounding their edgy situation marks the entry of Martians on the planet who are unleashing terror across the world, and mere survival is all that the human race is aiming for.

The show may have wanted a more fiery alien that had a better visual persona to deliver a chilling impact. On the human front though, there’s nothing to complain. The War of the Worlds lends unique identities to each of its characters and their traits are smartly correlated with their response to the alien invasion. The minister of the State is always looking for an opportunity to wield his power and expanding his territories. George is portrayed as this sensitive man who isn’t surefooted about his choices and someone who’s constantly bogged down by his insecurities; Frederick is slightly dissatisfied about the fact that Amy is responsible for the growing distance between the brothers and is dismissive about the various theories surrounding the invasion. Ogilvy is a typical astronomer scientist, trying to connect the dots, being curious and trying to find answers till his last breath. Amy is most humane among them all, pragmatic, optimistic and is the emotional anchor of her beloved.

The War of the Worlds may lack the tension that one expects in an apocalypse thriller, but it compensates for it with its affecting portrayal of the human reaction to a crisis. The protagonists are consistently presented with a conflict, are given many choices to handle a situation and we get to see their internal trauma as they opt for the lesser of the two evils. The debate between science and religious faith is bound to arise in that hour; it’s anyone’s guess as to the choice that the protagonist makes. The War of the Worlds reiterates that there’s no time to choose between right and wrong in a crisis, all that matters is survival.

Few beautifully executed scenes warm you up too; say the conversation between George and Amy where the former asks ‘Are we being selfish with our relationship?’. How can one forget the moment where the mother tells her young son about the colourful world she grew up amidst (before the invasion)? Director Craig Viveiros shows that it’s possible to give a shot at a done-to-death genre and still come up with a poignant, affecting spin to it. Along with writer Peter Harness, Craig utilises the leisureliness in the setup to their advantage.

The thriller remains atmospheric and stays authentic to the Edwardian era. Eleanor Tomlinson and Rafe Spall get wonderfully etched parts in the form of Amy and George. Rupert Graves looks every bit the bureaucrat he’s assigned to play and Robert Carlyle is cast well in the shoes of the nerdy, long-haired and hopeful astronomer.  The show grows on you gradually, has strong characters, respects the complexity of science and also doesn’t dilute the human element in the treatment – just what you desire in a story steeped in a sci-fi backdrop.

(The War of the Worlds is streaming on Sony LIV)

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