Just finished watching the BBC’s new adaptation of the HG Wells classic, and I have to say I was left a little bit cold. When I heard that it was shot in just three parts, I was worried. Three parts didn’t sound like enough, but on the other other hand, I’ve seen two movie adaptations that managed to do a half decent job (Mmm. Just realised that I never reviewed the Tom Cruise outing) with less time to play with, so thinking about it, three parts, an hour each, should’ve been plenty.
When you’ve got only a few hours to tell a story of global devastation, then the best tack is to focus on a small group of people and see how the destruction of everything around them makes the stronger or breaks them apart. This worked very well for Tom Cruise, it didn’t work that well for the BBC. I think the main problem was that the group of people they chose to focus on just wasn’t that interesting.
This book made big waves across the pond: it was a choice read for Ophrah Winfrey’s Book Club (I’ll be honest; I have no idea what that is), which pretty much guarantees a ready-made audience. And it deserves it. The Water Dancer is a very good book.
The story is set in Virginia during the decline of the plantations that brought untold misery to so many people. Hiram Walker is the son of a slave and the plantation owner. Though his mother is sold away when he is very young, Hiram thrives, after a fashion, due to the kindness of his fellow slaves, his photographic memory and the superhuman ability to transport himself and others across great distances. It’s the teleportation that draws interest from an underground group that has dedicated itself to rescuing slaves.
I’d heard a lot about this book, but when I started reading it, it wasn’t really what I expected. It’s very much a slow-burner, focussing on the literary, almost poetic prose, to bring an unusual fantasy novel to life. Coates has steered away from the physical suffering of the plantation slaves to bring a different perspective: the emotional suffering of separation. The slaves are property, so when the plantations began to fail, the slaves were sold off, with no regard for the wives, husbands or children left behind. For me, this was the most harrowing part of the whole story.
Warning! There’s a prediction/possible spoiler near the end!
In my less-than-humble opinion, a TV series based on a movie based on a graphic novel is never going to go well. It’s a bit like the sci-fi view of cloning: successive copies are always a little less perfect than the first generation.
The Watchmen franchise has managed to get around this by making a perfect copy of the original, and then pretty much rewriting the original for the TV series. So far, the results are … encouraging. Couple of things to bear in mind though: