TV - The Man in the High Castle

HIgh Castle

Our King of the What if scenario, Steve Taylor-Bryant, watches the TV adaptation of the ultimate literary what if, Philip K Dick's The Man in the High Castle...

Everyone has their very own favourite genre of books be it military scifi, horror, detective novels and I am no exception. I love alternative reality. My favourite articles to write are the ones where I ask 'What If?' and imagine a different version of something already done. The ultimate 'What If?' though belongs to Philip K. Dick and, not just my favourite novel of his but my favourite novel of all time, The Man in the High Castle (reviewed by me here). When it was announced that, after years of trying, X-Files writer Frank Spotnitz was finally bringing the title to television with Amazon, I was both delighted and filled with fear. Delighted that finally the book I consider PKD's best was getting the same love his other titles were getting but fearful that the adaptation would be massively changed, as most other projects fiddled with the source material far too much in my opinion. Then I started reading up on the show. PKD's daughter, Isa Dick-Hackett was involved and surely wouldn't let her father's work be bastardised too much, so some of the fear subsided. I'm already a fan of Spotnitz due to The X-Files so surely the project is in safe hands? Then I read some comments from them both in an article and mentioned within was making the story "palatable for an American audience," a statement I found both offensive to an American audience that always, to me at least, seem to give anything a go and I was worried that the changes would 'dumb down' the source material and make a classic tale more a run of the mill story. However I needn't have worried too much as, after viewing most of the series at this point, the changes work and work well. Yes, the show changes and also adds characters but it doesn't lose the feel of the book. The resistance, barely mentioned in the novel, has a bigger role to play in the show but they are pretty decimated and not organised so the fear that the show would be more positive and less bleak than the book quickly evaporated. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, the book within PKD's world, is now a film using real footage of the Allies winning the war and, whilst being a film is again different to the source material, it has the meaning, the same feel as the novel and to be honest works better on screen than a paperback would.

There is some beauty in what Spotnitz has done with screen version of The Man in the High Castle. It is part holocaust drama, and has some very dark scenes and dialogue contained within it, part educational and shows, with the young Americans growing up in a Hitler Youth that don't remember the war that the Nazi Party was once a beacon of hope, a movement that gave a great nation back its pride and purpose after the Great Depression and not just the vehicle that a tyrannical despot used to try and conquer the world. The visual look of the show keeps PKD's great vision at the forefront and the German occupied East with its Nazi/American flag and Reich feeling New York actually took my breath away. The characters, both from the original book and added for televisual storytelling purposes, are perfectly cast and obviously buy into both the book and what Spotnitz and his team are trying to achieve. Alexa Davalos as Julia is both believable and interesting and Rupert Evans as Frank Frink I bought into straight away. Luke Kleintank is an actor I enjoyed watching in Bones but was worried about with a step up to 'proper' drama but, as Joe Blake, really impresses as does DJ Qualls as Ed who I'd only ever seen in slapstick teen comedy before. It's one actor in particular that is stealing the limelight for me so far though and that is Rufus Sewell as Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith. Sewell is an actor I either adore in something or find overplays a role but in The Man in the High Castle manages to find a brilliance, a nice mix of Nazi henchmen and loving father.

I've not yet finished the series and it may well change my opinion when I do but so far I've managed to overcome my fear of changes and embrace something that is new and fresh and yet familiar and comfortable. Fans of the book have nothing to be frightened about, we're all used to PKD being changed for the screen by now aren't we? And so far everything works. And people who have never read the book and so are coming at the story with fresh eyes should love what is essentially a fantastically well constructed piece of television.

Image - IMDb