Life & Culture

TV review: The Power - Charged up women... but with a short circuit

Lessons bought home by Naomi Alderman's book - the impact of physical difference between the sexes, how power corrupts - are at risk of dilution in screen version


Halle Bush (Allie)

The Power
Amazon Prime | ★★★✩✩

There are a few special novels that can profoundly change how one sees the world, and I’d argue Naomi’s Alderman’s The Power is among them. I’ve lost count how many people I’ve recommended it to since it first came out in 2016.

It’s ostensibly science-fiction, which might dissuade snobbier readers even though the genre has long been a means of revealing truth about the here and now, with the central premise here that women suddenly develop the ability to generate electricity, thus becoming the physically dominant of the two sexes.

This is a fantastic “what-if” high concept for the long-awaited TV adaptation. Amazon Prime has released three episodes at launch, with six more to follow weekly, remaining particularly faithful to the book, as to be expected with Alderman maintaining a hands- on approach, writing some of the screenplays herself.

One of the changes is making the most likeable protagonist, Roxy Monke, a little bit older than in the book, 17, and having her father, played by Eddie Marsan, be a very much up and centre “Jewish” gangster.

It’s a nice nod to Alderman’s ethnicity, if not the reality of growing up an Orthodox Jew in Hendon. This particular British underworld niche in popular culture already feels as if it comes from another era though: will we ever see it again?

Roxy is admiringly bought to life by Ria Zmitrowicz, the swagger, bolshiness, anger at the start of her journey intact. All the main characters are well cast, the most famous among them Toni Collette, who plays Margot, the mayor of Seattle beleaguered by sexism.

The supporting cast are less well picked, particularly John Leguizamo as her husband, rocking up with too much baggage from other roles to carry off being one of the few token decent men in this story. To be fair, he’s not helped by some cringeworthy marital scenes whose sole purpose is to vocalise Margot’s frustrations.

Externalising the interior is always a tricky task for book adaptations, especially when there are as many difference voices being tracked as there are here, including the one messianic/psychotic character whose inner voice is all too vocal.

But apart from removing the very clever and funny framing device of the source material — a historical recreation from millennia in the future — the largest loss in the show is that we don’t feel how the ramifications of the shift in paradigm change the prism by which each character experiences the world and themselves.

Thus the lessons that are bought home by the book, the impact of physical difference between the sexes, how much men take it for granted, how power corrupts is a universal truth, are at risk of dilution for the screen.

With plans for multiple series, this one covers the first third of the book, and even factoring in some of the dark disturbing places the story takes us, it feels as if something else needs to be added to the mix, possibly more attention to the male fightback, for this to emerge as its own thing.

Otherwise, just plug into the book.

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