Why aren’t there more ‘what if’ programmes out there? The scope to be clever and deep is endless when you are weaving an alternative world. Maybe that is why – are they just too intricate to do properly?
The Man In The High Castle builds a world where the allies lost World War II and the Germans and the Japanese divided the United States between them.
Set in 1962, it is based on a Philip K Dick novel I have never read, centred around a banned book describing how the allies actually won the war. In the programme, the book has become a reel of film, a necessary morph using a more visual medium for the screen.
When building a different world, it is the tiny things that make it real. In Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, which has two Oxfords, one character is confused by the small round marks all over the pavement. It is discarded chewing gum, something we never notice but which did not exist in her world.
In TMITHC it is the friendly highway patrol cop who is actually an autobahn cop, and the endless ballads on the radio – because rock ‘n’ roll never happened.
But cripes, it’s bloody dark. The ice-cream coloured, big-refrigerated America of the 50s never happened, so everyone lives in poky, dirty apartments and everything is falling apart and frayed. Jobs are precious, especially for the native population, and everyone has to keep their heads down and keep quiet.
The main characters are, naturally, frowning and anxious and not particularly engaging.
There are also aspects of the plot that left me – even after two watch-throughs – frowning and anxious myself. The origami man on the bridge – how did he get there and know so much? The thief who stole Juliana’s bag from the bus – how did that save Frank from the firing squad? And the diplomat pretending to be from Sweden who came to visit the Japanese fella and talk about Hitler and I Ching? I mean – why?
Confusing? You betcha. But the cinematography and direction is utterly impressive, and the whole premise is so damned intriguing there is no question that I’ll be clicking onto Amazon Prime and binge-watching as soon as the whole series is released.