This is almost certainly an exercise in cruelty. Fans of Channel 4’s conspiracy thriller Utopia have already gone through the pain of its premature cancellation. To hope for more at this late stage is surely just setting ourselves up for more hurt?
And yet… Speaking to Den of Geek about new experimental mystery thriller The Third Day, currently airing on Sky Atlantic and HBO, Utopia writer Dennis Kelly admitted that he hasn’t “quite closed the door” on Utopia.“I haven’t quite gone ‘that’s something I’ll never do’.”
In 2014, Channel 4 tore Kelly’s visionary thriller out by the roots to make room for other drama with a broader appeal. It didn’t want a cult hit, which is what Utopia had grown into over two striking and provocative series.
Kelly indicated at the time that he had plans to continue the story, which had started as a mystery about an unusual comic book and ended somewhere… bigger and bolder.
Had the cancellation happened in 2020, a streaming service or co-production deal may have allowed Utopia to continue, but in 2014, Netflix’s expansion into original drama, for instance, was only just getting off the ground. Complicating matters for any potential Utopia return is the imminent release of a US remake, which arrives on Amazon Prime Video on Friday the 25th of September.
Den of Geek asked Kelly how he felt about the Utopia remake, and whether fans should give up hope of ever seeing the UK versions of Jessica Hyde and Arby again…
How does it feel for the Utopia remake to be arriving at a time that couldn’t really feel more apt, in that viruses and vaccines are daily news headlines now?
Weird. It feels really weird. It’s odd. You’re right, it feels like it’s exactly when it was written for in some ways! It’s a strange thing. I don’t know how people are going to take it. I think it looks great. I’ve seen two episodes and they look great. I’ve not really had anything to do with it. Even though I’m an exec on it, I’ve not really had much input at all, but it looks really good and it’s going to be really interesting to see how people feel about it.
You weren’t involved at a script level?
I’ve not really read the scripts in probably four or five years. But I’ve seen a couple of episodes and they look really good. The last time I read the scripts was probably back when David Fincher was involved. I really liked them, I thought they were great. I’ve had a few chats with Gillian [Flynn], who’s adapted it but my sense of it was that she obviously wanted to make it her own. She was always really lovely to me, but I felt like the last thing you want is ‘that bloke’ hanging around going ‘do it like this’. You don’t want that. She’s making her show, even though some of the ideas might be taken from mine, it’s her show and if it were me, I wouldn’t want someone else to be around. I stepped back and let her do her thing.
Just before the Fincher version of the remake fell apart, you said it had been changed in some really clever ways?
Yeah. There are some new characters that are really interesting, really intriguing. There’s some of the old characters there as well. It’s different. It’s a strange experience watching it because you know it so well. I can’t remember when Utopia was out, but it’s probably six years ago and I’ve not watched [the UK version] in that time, so it was kind of nice. I did get to watch it as if it was new.
The original might not have had as broad an audience as Channel 4 wanted, but the people who loved it, loved it. Some might feel a bit protective of it, like ‘who are these Americans ruining it? Watch the original!’ What would you say to that?
My background is theatre and I’ve been lucky that a lot of my plays have gone on in other countries, so I feel like you can do different versions of a script. TV and film are very, very different, you only really do one version, but if you wrote a play… I’ve got a play that’s been done 40 times in Germany alone – I haven’t seen all those productions by the way, I’ve only seen two or three but you see that they’re really different, so I do think the world’s a big place, I do think there’s room for lots and lots of different things.
My view on it was always, what you can’t ever do is harm the original. You can do a new version and there will be a lot of people that will go ‘it’s not as good as the original’, and there’ll be a lot of people that will go ‘it’s better than the original’. But I don’t think it harms the original.
Is it final that you wouldn’t revisit the UK Utopia, given the chance?
We’ve spoken about it before. There is always the possibility. I think it would be difficult to go back now because everyone’s a lot older [laughs]. There’s always a danger that if you go back you’re a different bunch of people with different criteria and often, going back, you end up with something that’s a bit of a shadow of what it was, or a shit version of what it was.
You’ve always got to think about what your reasons are for going back. It was difficult at that time not to finish the story because I think it was going to go to some interesting places. Now, I’m a different person from the person that wrote that.
If you decided you were never to go back to it, would you ever reveal what those ‘interesting places’ are?
Maybe one day, maybe one day [laughs]. I don’t know at the moment, who knows? There’s always a possibility of going back. I haven’t quite closed the door on it, I haven’t quite gone ‘that’s something I’ll never do’.
And you don’t want to burn your bridges. If you tell me the whole plot now, that’ll ruin it.
If I tell you, and you go ‘Huh’, then that’s it, that’s my ideas ruined! Honestly, I never tell anyone anything, or as little as possible I try and not tell anyone, because what happens is, the moment you tell someone, every part of you is attuned to what the response is and any response can be bad. If they go ‘Wow, that sounds fucking amazing!’ you go ‘Oh shit, I’ve got to write something amazing now’ and if their response is like ‘Huh’, you go, ‘Oh fuck, that idea’s terrible’. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. You’re better off not telling anyone anything!
Utopia (US) is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video from Friday the 25th of November. Both series of the UK original are also available to stream on Amazon Prime UK.