First look UK TV review: Brave New World
Ivan Radford | On 02, Oct 2020
No privacy. No family. No monogamy. Those are the three rules governing the dystopian world at the heart of Brave New World – and it’s no surprise to say that they’re about to be upended by the suddenly emerging desire for each of them.
Aldous Huxley’s novel, written in 1932, imagined our future as a place where everyone is spied on at all times, and encouraged to be as promiscuous as possible. There’s no room for individual ambition, personal loyalty or hopeful dreams – just hedonism and streamlined efficiency, all held together in a strict social order by a drug called Soma.
There are elements of this that can resonate today, such as surveillance and the toxic notion of “alphas” and “betas”, but the curious reality about Sky’s adaptation of Huxley’s book is that it doesn’t feel very relevant, even to our world of instant gratification. That robs this satirical sci-fi of its edge, which isn’t a problem when it comes to enjoying the luscious production values – the star-studded, gorgeously filmed New London that provides the backdrop to events is a handsome piece of production design, and there’s a glossy finish to it all that’s slick, if a little soulless.
Harry Lloyd and Jessica Brown Findlay are fantastic as Bernard, an alpha who is meant to keep things ticking along without question, and Lenina, who finds herself increasingly drawn to him. Together, they nail the excitement and fear of considering the idea of committing to each other exclusively for the rest of their lives.
They contemplate this as they journey to the Savage Lands, a theme park out in the wilds where free people live in the old-fashioned way – and where actors play out scenarios such as weddings with an amusingly cautionary tone, warning people of the dangers of jealousy, anger and other feelings. It’s no surprise, then, that the people out in the Savage Lands are planning some kind of revolt.
If any of this rings any bells, it’s because Westworld has already covered it, and Brave New World struggles to find a way to overcome that feeling of familiarity – this is somewhere between HBO’s adaptation of Michael Crichton’s film and 2004’s I, Robot. The charismatic presence of Alden Ehrenreich as John, a prop technician who crosses paths with Harry and Lenina – plus Demi Moore as his mother – help to bring some humanity to proceedings, but Brave New World’s opening chapters don’t quite live up to the first two words of its title. It’s a nice world to look at, but it feels lightyears away from our own.
Brave New World: Season 1 is available on Sky One. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it live and on-demand legally on NOW, for £9.99 a month, with no contract and a 7-day free trial.