Day of the Triffids – BBC Mini-series – review

[from BSC]

Bill Masen, a scientist who has spent his life working with the genetically engineered, carnivorous plants known as Triffids, finds himself one of the few sighted people left in the world after an intense solar event blinds much of the population. But if you think that sounds like a bad day, then imagine his horror when he finds that a loony environmental activist has released the deadly Triffids from the farms where Masen was attempting to study them.

This, then, is the set-up for the BBC’s latest adaptation of John Wyndham’s classic SF novel. Don’t ask me about how faithful an adaptation it is, because – as ashamed as I am to admit it – I’ve never encountered the Triffids before. And perhaps that’s the best way to come to an adaptation like this: treating it as a fresh and original story without any baggage to affect how the story comes across.

Certainly, this latest BBC mini-series looks the business. Aside from the dodgy effects in the opening solar flare, the dark and claustrophobic urban sets and the sprawling, desolate countryside scenes create an effectively doom-laden atmosphere, and the early crowd scenes where those suddenly struck blind start to grab out for any seeing person they can are unnervingly effective, if finally becoming a little melodramatic.

The cast are solid, ranging from merely watchable if a little flat – Dougray Scott, as the lead, is given little to do but keep telling people that the Triffids are dangerous while maintaining the kind of heroic scowl you know is going to melt when he finally admits that he’s falling in love with Joely Richardson – to absolutely excellent – Joely Richardson, Vanessa Redgrave’s bleeding obvious but still fun cameo, and, of course, Dundee’s finest, Brian Cox. My biggest worry was Eddie Izzard as the mysterious Torrens, a man who survives an air crash and uses the sudden apocalypse as an opportunity to grab at some kind of power and reinvent his life. That we are given no clue as to who he was before the crash merely adds to his creepiness. Although, at times, Izzard seems to channel the spirit of his James Mason impressions from his stand-up routine just a little too closely.

The plants themselves are wisely kept to the shadows for much of the show. A tendril here, a purple-balloon head there. A click-clacking noise and a cast member yanked out of view, the under-seige sections of the show were very well done. In part two, especially, Joely Richardson’s run through Triffid-infested London was unsettling and rather tense, even if there was a feeling that overall she was going to make it out of there.

Where the series falls flat is in its use, or overuse, of SF and apocalyptic plot staples. Vannessa Redgrave clearly has fun in a cameo as a nun who may not be as holy as she seems, but the minute she appears on screen you can guess what she’s all about. And when a couple of rifle-toting kids appear on screen, you know they’re going to go all soft and gooey before too long.

There’s also the matter of several characters behaving conveniently for the sake of the plot moving forward and the constant hammering-over-the-head with a solution from Bill Masen’s childhood that comes in rather convenient later on down the line. The script writers clearly took the idea of Chekhov’s gun and held it close to their hearts. There’s also the not-so-subtle commentary about how quickly society could break down when you take away all the creature comforts. And some incredibly obvious talk about environmental issues and how there’s no such thing as a true quick fix to any problem. Yes, we get it: we, as humans, are going to be the harbingers of our own doom if we don’t wise up (and if we don’t start to see what’s happening around us – oh, is that why the Triffids always go for the eyes, then?). We’ve seen enough apocalyptic films and TV shows to have all that figured out without the script constantly using the characters as mouthpieces to remind us.

But, despite heavy-handed thematic elements, some overused plot devices, Dougray Scott’s horrifically bored-sounding voiceover that recalls Harrison Ford’s effort in the 1981 cut of Blade Runner, and Jason Priestley’s fairly pointless on-screen presence (on the whole, his character makes very little difference to events and is soon enough gently pushed off-screen until a final deus ex machina appearance), Day of The Triffids is a fairly slick few hours of entertainment. And, as long as you don’t take it too seriously or think too much about the plot, it is one of the more effortless contemporary mini-series that the BBC has produced in quite some time.

Written by Momo in: Day of the Triffids |

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