With Netflix pulling in the views and the phrase of the year, Amazon have seriously stepped up to the stage with their adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel Man in the High Castle. Set in an alternate timeline where the Axis powers won World War II and the United States has been split into three parts. The western half being occupied by the Japanese and the eastern side overtaken by the Nazis, with a neutral zone down the middle. “You ever think, how different life would be if you could change just one thing?” contemplates Juliana Crain.
There is an awareness of their alternate reality, of their dystopic timeline that’s so utterly different from our own. It makes us question just how real this reality is. The catalyst for the entire show is a video tape, that shows the Allied Forces winning the war, falling into the hands of Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos). The government wants this tape destroyed despite its apparent fictitious nature in this alternate universe. The severe reaction to this information throws doubt on how genuine this all is.
There is little explanation as to why the Allies lost the war but the alternate history and its causes are alluded to throughout the series, with the audience left to connect the pieces. It drops us in the middle of a white-washed, swastika adorned New York in 1962. Hitler, played by Wolf Muser, champions a peaceful coexistence, he is a well-loved leader, nearing death, who appears frequently on TV screens.
The eastern Greater Nazi Reich, is presided over by Obergruppenführer John Smith (Rufus Sewell), an authoritarian family man whose word must be followed to the letter. It is Orwellian and reminiscent of John Hurt’s portrayal of Adam Sutler in V for Vendetta. Smith is easily one of the most interesting characters. He is utterly evil but at times civil and almost compassionate in his mentoring of his teenage son. Sewell’s portrayal invites depth and intrigue, something that is lacking from the other characters.
For the past few years of being obsessed with the likes of Mad Men, it is an interesting contrast to visit the same era in a distinctly different style. The world we are presented with is believable, we do not question the authenticity of the events or the world that the characters inhabit. With executive producer Ridley Scott (Alien, Gladiator, Blade Runner) and series creator Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files, Millennium, Harsh Realm) at the helm, it is no surprise that MITHC constructs a reality that is instantly convincing. The colours are cool and passive, there is no showing off here. This is what this world looks like. And it is stunning. Honestly, the world is more stimulating than the characters. It is fully-realised and instantly makes the characters more interesting purely by setting them in this reality.
The actors feel appropriate and non-superfluous, the acting is pleasing and at times brilliant, especially from Rufus Sewell. Whilst audiences shouldn’t go in expecting a fun romp through 1960s Nazi America, it is an investment worth making across the 10 episodes. The sombre affair does occasionally wear a little tiresome but the story-line and the need for answers definitely make it worth watching.
Nicole Stewart Rushworth