NBC’s Peacock streaming service marked this week’s “soft launch” with a short teaser trailer for one of the original programs: brave new world, an adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s ultimate dystopian science fiction novel. The teaser has few details but is visually striking, so while Peacock is relatively late in the streaming scene, the series looks set to be a winner for the fledgling service.
brave new world (the novel) was inspired by the optimistic utopian novels of HG Wells. Huxley wanted to write a parody of it, but eventually became “entangled in the excitement” of creating his own “negative utopia.” He also cited DH Lawrence as an influence, although George Orwell noted strong similarities to a 1921 Russian science fiction novel, We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin. (Huxley was openly accused of plagiarism by Polish author Mieczyslaw Smolarski, who believed the similarities to two of his novels were too strong to be “accidental analogy.”) The fact that Huxley wrote brave new world as the Great Depression spread from the US to the UK, it affected the theme of achieving stability even at the cost of individual liberties.
brave new world Set in the year 2540, in the World State city of London, where humans are born in artificial wombs and indoctrinated through ‘sleep learning’ to fit into their assigned, predetermined caste. Citizens regularly consume a drug called soma (part antidepressant, part hallucinogen) to keep them docile and help them adhere to strict social laws. Promiscuity is encouraged, but pregnancy (for women) is a disgrace. It goes without saying that both art and science are viewed with suspicion (albeit to a lesser degree). “Any discovery in pure science is potentially subversive,” tells Mustapha Mond, the protagonist of the novel’s antihero, John the Savage. ‘Science is dangerous; we must chain and muzzle them as carefully as possible.’
John is the illegitimate son of a high-ranking government official, born and raised on the Savage Reservation, where people still give birth, age naturally and generally represent the opposite of the carefully controlled ideals of the World State. His only training is the complete works of Shakespeare. (The title of the novel refers to a line by Miranda in the storm.) When John and his mother, Linda, make their way back to the World State, he initially becomes a cause célèbre, but struggles to adapt to the new social mores.
In particular, he falls in love with a young woman named Lenina Crowne, but cannot cope with her promiscuity and sexual predilection. Ultimately, he isolates himself from society in the hope of purging himself of “sin.” Things don’t end well for John, and they don’t exactly end well for Lenina, though the novel never explicitly reveals her fate.
There have been previous TV movie adaptations of brave new world, in 1980 and 1998, as well as numerous radio broadcasts and a theater production in 2015. At one point, Ridley Scott considered his own adaptation, but eventually scrapped the project. He has suggested that perhaps the novel’s revolutionary ideas were better suited to its own time, telling Collider in 2012, “If you re-analyze it, maybe it should stay as a book.” SyFy took on the challenge of updating the novel for the 21st century as a TV series in 2015, and the project moved to the USA Network before finally settling on Peacock in recent years.
“Welcome to New London. You are an essential part of a perfect social body. Everyone in their place. Everyone happy now,” a voice assures us as the trailer opens, giving us a panoramic view of prosperous privileges. We meet Alpha-Plus Lenina (Jessica Brown Findlay), who drops a glass of soma and parties with several potential sexual partners, while an occasional lover Bernard Marx (Henry Lloyd) looks on jealously. It is believed to be for him. Lenina says: ‘Everyone belongs to everyone.’
We head to Savageland, where Linda (Demi Moore) urges her son John (Alden Ehrenreich) to return with her to New London. “There’s no pain, John, no fear. I want that for you.’ But John isn’t exactly captivated by New London, despite his longing for Lenina.
We also see an authoritarian Mustapha Mond (Nina Sosanya) lecture a group of affirmative followers about the danger of asking questions or welcoming new ideas: “A virus enters a cell. That’s how it starts.” Mond is one of two notable roles to have switched genders in the TV adaptation, the other being Bernard’s friend Helmholtz Watson, a professor in the College of Emotional Engineering. Here’s the character Wilhelmina “Helm” Watson, played by Hannah John-Kamen.
brave new world doesn’t have an official release date yet, but Peacock will officially launch on July 15, 2020.
List image by YouTube/Peacock