Jessica Brown Findlay plays Lenina in an update of ‘Brave New World’
Jessica Brown Findlay plays Lenina in an update of ‘Brave New World’ © Peacock TV LLC

Is there still any kind of appetite for dystopia in 2020, a year that itself feels like it has been scripted by a writer of schlocky science fiction? Perhaps not, but Sky’s latest US import — a glossy nine-part adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World — at least provides a little solace by showing us that we’re still better off than the citizens of the futuristic, ultra-stratified and inhumanely streamlined New London.

Not that the majority of residents in this aggressively CGI’d metropolis seem discontent. They may have little in the way of existential autonomy — people are no longer born, but engineered in a lab to suit a social caste system — but they are free to indulge all of their sybaritic desires. Well, not quite free. Their libertinism is, after all, mandated and monitored by the ever-watching World State.

But endless sex in the surveillance city — and there are enough orgy scenes to make Normal People seem like wholesome family viewing — isn’t enough to keep some from questioning the value of their bacchanalian, yet stringently codified, existence. Bernard Marx (Harry Lloyd) is a wraithlike, turtleneck-wearing councillor, stricken by malaise despite taking and dolling out prodigious amounts of tranquilliser pills. His colleague Lenina Crowne (Jessica Brown Findlay), an embryo technician, meanwhile develops a gnawing realisation that there’s more to life than dissolute nights at the “Pleasure Garden”. 

In order to quell their incipient anomie, Bernard and Lenina are soon sent on holiday to a theme-park resort, the Savage Lands, where Luddite, uncivilised communities enact “historic” traditions such as weddings and, amusingly, “the annual day of black” (Black Friday). It’s here that the lives of Bernard and Lenina intersect with the show’s other central figure, a gruff, young local called John (Alden Ehrenreich), who may be more than the Caliban he appears to be. 

Most of this will sound familiar to those who’ve read the novel, but this adaptation, much like New London, is often as hollow as it is polished. So many scenes are devoted to sex and exposition that there’s an underwhelming lack of meaningful engagement with the meaty ethical quandaries and psychological theories of Huxley’s writing.

And while the measures taken with dialogue and design to make a story written in 1932 and set in 2540 feel vaguely “contemporary” are understandable, the truth is that thematic fixations with monogamy and privacy already seem more dated than prescient in the era of Tinder and TikTok. Still, it’s more entertaining than watching the news at the moment.

★★★☆☆

On Sky One/Now TV from October 2 at 9pm

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