The Time Traveller’s Wife
The book The Time Traveller’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger, was a sensation in 2003 – superior fare for book groups to chew on. It has an almost ludicrous premise that becomes beautiful and moving in Niffenegger’s deft hands. It was adapted into a film starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana in 2009 that held close to the book’s love story. As everything unavoidably is, it was of its time, and maybe some parts don’t come across so well in this era of perpetual opprobrium (namely, Henry “grooms” Clare to be his wife, but that’s pouring bad-tempered interpretation over something that is clearly fantasy).
This latest iteration is helmed by Stephen Moffat, who has made no secret of his love of the book and his having almost directly lifted its story in the beautiful Doctor Who episode the Girl in the Fireplace. Something about the premise just gets to people; don’t we all love the idea of seeing the love of our life in times we didn’t and couldn’t have known them? The media like stories of now-married couples who discovered they holidayed together as kids, or the like, probably because it’s romantic and gives a comforting feeling of some benign hand of fate. So it is unsurprising this story is getting another outing, this time produced by HBO Max for Sky Atlantic.
The question is: is this latest adaptation necessary and does it offer anything new? In a market clamouring for our valuable attention, viewers can afford to be – in fact, must be – quite discerning with what they choose to spend their time on. Unless an adaptation of a well-known and loved work brings something radically new, it can feel dreary to go over well-trodden paths for those already familiar with the story. In an experimental hand, there can be the shock of innovation – think Andrea Arnold’s feature version of Wuthering Heights, where Heathcliff drops the c-bomb on a love rival. That could never have happened in the 19th century, no matter how wild and windswept the folk involved were, but what it lacked in era-specific realism it made up for in wayward artistry.
This adaptation feels like it could threaten to diminish, rather than enhance, the influential story’s legacy. The first episode turns up problems in the story that didn’t come through so much in the book, in particular that Henry (the unwilling time traveller, played by Theo James) comes across as a bit of a dick: arrogant, careless, beating a lot of people up (because he has to, but that’s the refrain of every street fighter). This is acknowledged in the dialogue when Clare (Rose Leslie), his once and future wife, asks him if his secret is that he’s “a secret asshole?”. “Isn’t that every man’s secret?” he retorts, pithily: a nice one-two that lingers in the memory.
There is a lot of Henry naked, greased-up (he loses his clothes when he time travels and it’s exerting), and beating people up for their clothes – so much so that James’s bottom feels like a not entirely unwelcome added character. An altogether less pleasing extra character is the appalling wig work that James has to endure. He is a very handsome man brought low by bad wigs, which is tragic to see.
Both leads are likeable; Clare, especially, is a character that resonates with women, and the story is a good one but it’s probably only worth watching for those unfamiliar with its previous incarnations.
The Time Traveller’s Wife is released on Sky on 16th May 2022.
Watch the trailer for The Time Traveller’s Wife here: