H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds Becomes a New BBC Miniseries Set in Edwardian England

H.G. Wells began writ­ing the nov­el that would become The War of the Worlds in the Eng­land of the mid-1890s. As a set­ting for this tale of inva­sion from out­er space, he chose the place he knew best: Eng­land of the mid-1890s. Stag­ing spec­ta­cles of unfath­omable mal­ice and fan­tas­ti­cal destruc­tion against such an ordi­nary back­drop made The War of the Worlds, first as a mag­a­zine ser­i­al and then as a stand­alone book, a chill­ing­ly com­pelling expe­ri­ence for its read­ers. Orson Welles under­stood the effec­tive­ness of that choice, as evi­denced by the fact that in his famous­ly con­vinc­ing 1938 radio adap­ta­tion of Wells’ nov­el, the hos­tile aliens land in mod­ern-day New Jer­sey.

Sub­se­quent adap­ta­tions have fol­lowed the same prin­ci­ple: in 1953, the first War of the Worlds Hol­ly­wood film set the action in 1950s Los Ange­les; the lat­est, a Steven Spiel­berg-direct­ed Tom Cruise vehi­cle that came out in 2005, set it in the New York and Boston of the 2000s. But now, set to pre­miere lat­er this year on BBC One, we have a three-part minis­eries that returns the sto­ry to the place and time in which Wells orig­i­nal­ly envi­sioned it — or rather, the place and very near­ly the time. Shot in Liv­er­pool, the pro­duc­tion recre­ates not the Vic­to­ri­an Eng­land in which The War of the Worlds was first pub­lished but the brief Edwar­dian peri­od, last­ing rough­ly the first decade of the 20th cen­tu­ry, that fol­lowed it.

In a way, a peri­od War of the Worlds reflects our time as clear­ly as the pre­vi­ous War of the Worlds adap­ta­tions reflect theirs: tele­vi­sion view­ers of the 2010s have shown a sur­pris­ing­ly hearty appetite for his­tor­i­cal dra­ma, and often British his­tor­i­cal dra­ma at that. Think of the suc­cess ear­li­er this decade of Down­ton Abbey, whose upstairs-down­stairs dynam­ics proved grip­ping even for those not steeped in the British class sys­tem. This lat­est War of the Worlds, whose trail­er you can watch at the top of the post, uses sim­i­lar themes, telling the sto­ry of a man and woman who dare to be togeth­er despite their class dif­fer­ences — and, of course, amid an alien inva­sion that threat­ens to destroy the Earth. It remains to be seen whether the minis­eries will rise to the cen­tral chal­lenge of adapt­ing The War of the Worlds: will the emo­tions at the cen­ter of the sto­ry be as con­vinc­ing as the may­hem sur­round­ing them?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Orson Welles’ Icon­ic War of the Worlds Broad­cast (1938)

Hor­ri­fy­ing 1906 Illus­tra­tions of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds: Dis­cov­er the Art of Hen­rique Alvim Cor­rêa

Ray Harryhausen’s Creepy War of the Worlds Sketch­es and Stop-Motion Test Footage

Edward Gorey Illus­trates H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds in His Inim­itable Goth­ic Style (1960)

Things to Come, the 1936 Sci-Fi Film Writ­ten by H.G. Wells, Accu­rate­ly Pre­dicts the World’s Very Dark Future

Stream Mar­cel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, a BBC Pro­duc­tion Fea­tur­ing Derek Jaco­bi (Free for a Lim­it­ed Time)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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