Earlier this year new to the market streaming service Peacock launched. Its first big series is an adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932). Whilst those living in America may well want to check our series review, those in the U.K. may want to wait as it hits Sky One on 2nd October 2020. We consider both and then pass our judgment on which reigns supreme and why. You’re welcome. Enjoy!
Aldous Huxley famously stated Brave New World was far from his favorite novel that he’d written. He wrote many. Later, when reappraising aspects of it he discussed various changes that he’d make to the story if he could. Whilst the book wasn’t stylistically the greatest novel ever written, it was groundbreaking in other ways. As a “novel of ideas,” the text was very much unprecedented. There had been other stories that deal with predictions for the future, but not that explored so many themes so closely. They included individualism, overpopulation, nature vs. nurture,, capitalism vs. communism amongst others. The human condition was never far from the story, essayed by the book’s central protagonist John the Savage.
Since its publication, the impact of the book has been vast. Along with 1984, (1949) Brave New World is one of the “big two” and often used as a way of assessing how far from a real-life dystopia we really are. It’s impossible to fully measure quite how influential the book has been. Its ideas were revolutionary at the time, and have acted as the catalyst for many science fiction authors to respond with stories of their own. It’s never been out of print, and won’t be any time soon. Whist it’s literary value is debatable, the status of the story as a hugely important achievement within popular culture and the genre of science fiction is indelible. It stays relevant because it continues to ask questions today.
Whilst the book does have some action scenes in it, there’s certainly no real sense that it’s a thrill a minute. The pace of the series is altogether different. Yes, a series has to engage viewers differently, but the big issue is that Peacock’s small screen adaptation of Brave New World is very much style over substance. There are no feelings of what it truly means to be a human being questioned. That’s what’s lacking, amongst other things (for more on this, read what we thought didn’t work in the series).
The character of John in the series (played by Alden Ehrenreich) was much more heroic than the book. He seemed to actively rebel, rejecting the world of New London. Huxley’s John was confused and as a result, conflicted. John couldn’t fit into a world where everyone was the same, because he wasn’t a product of the conditioning used in New London. How John interacted with Lenina Crowne, played by Jessica Brown Findlay, felt forced. It relied too much on gratuitous nudity. A cheap flesh-fest over a convincing, tragic love story.
There were other differences. Too many to list and analyze. One particularly notable was the use of sexual activity. It was hugely sensationalized on screen, and only really used as a shock tactic to depict it as a graphic act. The idea in the book is more about a world where sexual reproduction no longer happens, but sexual intercourse does. Sex would have better been depicted as having become dull and boring, due to the perpetual availability of it. This new perspective would have kept the element of analyzing the human condition.
Without a doubt, the book emerges victorious. It’s impossible to feasibly imagine that the series will still be relevant in around a hundred years. Huxley’s book probably still will be; certainly, it will continue to hold value as a way to think about humanity and society. With its biblical undertones and quotations from Shakespeare deftly stitched in, the book makes you think. A lot. Sadly, the show is at best just another big-budget action series. It lacks psychological and emotional power. If it had taken a more cerebral approach, it could have proved been much more memorable. Even if the show was spectacular, eclipsing the original story would remain improbable. For its time Huxley’s conceptual efforts broke new ground like few things ever have, or are likely to.