The Man in The High Castle is Amazon studios latest title airing exclusively on their video streaming service Amazon Prime. Set in an alternate 1960’s America it presents a world where the Axis forces won World War Two and follows the main protagonists Juliana, Frank and Joe’s involvement in a mysterious plot to change everything. Much like the similar service Netflix, Amazon have released a number of TV series for paying subscribers but on the whole these titles have not garnered nearly the same amount of attention as series such as Orange is the New Black, House of Cards and Marvel’s Daredevil.
This might be the one to change all that. With an engaging premise, ambitious set design and unrelenting plot, it has all the tropes of a typical blockbuster TV series. On top of this it is an adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel of the same name; other adaptations of his books are such little known films as Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report. The first three episodes definitely hold a lot of promise for what is a gripping thriller set in a fantastically realised setting.
Episode 1 which has been available as a pilot on Amazon for some time, sets the macabre tone of an America ruled by Nazi’s perfectly. We begin in a New York cinema which is playing a news reel and one of the central protagonists, Joe Blake, is wearing clothes typical of the 1960’s setting. Then the reel ends with an American flag, except in this case it has been changed to include the Swastika instead of stars. After this we see a convincing Times Square likewise emblazoned with the Nazi insignia. The CGI backdrops are obvious but this is an indication of the not quite stellar budget they would have had for this pilot episode, which still looks great nonetheless.
The convincing thing for a lot of this setting is not just the Nazi logo’s and the presence of brown coats patrolling the streets but rather the way in which it appears engrained into the society we are shown; worn signs on the railway identify it as a state controlled ‘autobahn’ and the entire economy seems to be based on industrial labour, the American Dream obviously taking a backseat. One of the more chilling aspects of this society is deftly revealed when Joe notices ash falling from the sky whilst parked at the side of the road. A country police officer and American national nonchalantly informs him; “Tuesdays. They burn cripples, the terminally ill…drag on the state.”
It soon becomes apparent, however, that this is more than just a ‘What If?’ story or simply one where a rebel resistance rises up to take on an oppressive imperial regime, a basic storyline which has been explored many times before in various mediums. The central plot of Phillip K. Dick’s original story begins to come out with the introduction of two film reels showing footage of the actual ending of World War 2 along with the namedrop of ‘the Man in the High Castle’, an elusive filmmaker who might be connected to making them. From this point on and into episode 2 the pace quickens and each scene brings with it a new gripping situation, including greater layers to the story and a subplot about the politics of Hitler’s Reich. Questions arise as it becomes unclear whether all characters can be trusted or what the motives of the recurring Japanese and Nazi ‘villains’ are.
At times the script seems to contain clichés but generally improves as it moves along. It would also be good to see more of how the world they live in is affecting them in their day to day life, but this is possibly something that will be intertwined with the main plot later. So far, I’m hooked.
Words by Tim Goodfellow