A DVD release of the latest adaptation of John Wyndham’s ‘cosy catastrophe’ 50s classic is heartily welcomed by me as, painfully, I missed episode one over Christmas as my digi-box recorder packed up. After the disappointing 1962 film and the terrifying-at-the-time Good Life-gone-bad1981 series, this version suggests that Wyndham’s story is moving in the same direction as The Hound Of The Baskervilles, being repeatedly reinterpreted for new audiences and new generations. I, for one, welcome this. There is plenty of room in Day Of The Triffids for future adaptors to ‘modernise’ and to introduce timely twists to build on Wyndham’s central plot.
Or should that be plots? The Day Of The Triffids follows the adventures of Bill Masen and Jo Playton, played by Dougray Scott and Joely Richardson, as they struggle to survive after most of the world’s population has been blinded by solar flares. As two of the few remaining sighted people, Masen and Playton face the dilemma of whether to save the less fortunate or themselves. This dilemma is complicated by the existence of mobile, carnivorous plants, the Triffids, and by the villainous Torrence played brilliantly by Eddie Izzard.
The one weakness of Wyndham’s story is the improbable double conceit of the solar flares (in the book a meteor shower) and the unconnected Triffid menace. In this adaptation, this is reconciled partly by dividing the two crises between the two episodes.
The first focuses on Masen and Playton encountering two different communities in London, the first excluding the blind, the second forcing the sighted to care for the blind. In this episode, bar the occasional encounter and the hugely effective cliffhanger, the Triffids remain unseen and marginalised, with only Masen’s repeated warnings reminding the viewer of their presence.
The second episode leaves the city and the blind behind as Masen travels across country to find his father, fellow Triffid scientist Dennis Masen, played by Brian Cox. This episode rapidly turns into what Doctor Who fans would call a ‘base-under-siege’ story as Masen senior’s very attractive manor house is slowly surrounded by the deadly vegetation.
The effect of splitting Wyndham’s ungainly double-concept plot in this way is highly satisfactory. In doing so, the parallels between the London bases-under-siege by the blind and the rural bases-under-siege by the Triffids are hammered home.
Thankfully, the adaptors resisted the supposed temptation to relocate the story to a more glamorous location, instead setting it in the cosy and, to me at least, familiar South Downs of England. In doing so they retain the central and most memorable power of the Triffid/blindness crises: the threat to the traditional, stereotypical qualities of Britishness.
Throughout the two episodes both blind and sighted are shown helpless, debased and undignified, at the mercy of and ultimately usurped by the distinctly foreign plant life. After defeating the increasingly violent and desperate Torrence and lead by (ironically) the American Major Cocker, Masen and Playton find their way to the safety of the Isle of Wight, protected from the Triffids by the Solent.
I was impressed by this adaptation and surprised by the negative reactions on Amazon.com. The casting was perfect, especially Izzard who seemed to relish the role of the morally bankrupt Torrence. Brian Cox who, David Tennant-like, seemed to be in almost everything over Christmas, was equally strong as the short-lived but pivotal Dennis Masen.
The CG realisation of the Triffids was well done and true to the original story, The slow reveal over the episodes ratcheted up the menace. I wasn’t entirely convinced by their method of moving, as with the 1980s series, but it is difficult to know, without a major redesign of the whole plant, how this could be done. The overall impression was that the Triffids had some sort of feet that were never shown on screen and this, after a time, becomes faintly comical.
Just as the 1980s series was a late example of the 1970s preoccupation with self-sufficiency that gave rise to, at extremes, The Good Life and the original Survivors, the remake encourages comparison with the rebooted Survivors, a series I rather like but feel needs an extra dramatic dimension.
What The Day Of The Triffids made me realise was that a global apocalypse doesn’t automatically lead to a fast paced drama. What’s required is the more instant threat of the Triffids.
Ultimately, it made me realise that, while Wyndham’s original story seems contrived, both fantastical elements are essential to fully and economically realise the dramatic potential of the catastrophe.
The disc is extras-light. The accompanying ‘making of’ documentary is satisfactory, but I suspect they could potentially have constructed an entire extra based on an interview with Eddie Izzard.
The Day Of The Triffids is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.