The Man in the High Castle S1 – Review

Fate is fluid. Destiny is in the hands of men.

The Man in the High Castle – the show that established Amazon’s reputation for drama – is getting a second series released this week. Late for the party due to a delay in Prime membership, I only finished the series today and I cannot watch the second series quick enough. Thoughtful, exciting, beautifully made, The Man in the High Castle is a winner.

Based on the novel by Philip K. Dick, and produced by Ridley ScottThe Man in the High Castle has hit written all over it. Nazi-occupied east coast. Japanese west coast. Resistance fighters. Propaganda films. Surreal but subtle sci-fi elements spun in. A cast of formidable actors. Despite a slow start, it rewards viewers who stick with it. Episode 6 is staggering, and from there it goes from strength to strength, building to a gloriously satisfying crescendo.

The series follows Juliana Crain (the fantastic Alexa Davalos) who inadvertently gets swept up in a resistance movement, carrying an anti-Nazi propaganda film supposedly from ‘The Man in the High Castle’. Both the Japanese and the Nazis are out to get her from the very beginning, and that tension doesn’t let up. A thrilling cameo from the not-so-lovely Burn Gorman ramps up that tension early on, but it is Rufus Sewell’s hawkish, cool-headed Obergruppenführer Smith who really packs the punches in the series. When given time to flourish in episode 6, Smith is alluring and terrifying in equal measure, leading to something strangely enrapturing. Sewell’s steely gaze and razor-sharp cheekbones only add to the gravity and complexity of his performance. He’s brutal: but he’s a man.

Juliana flicks between two male counterparts. Brit Rupert Evans is relentless whilst Luke Kleintank is the more mysterious, slow-burn type. Both are worthy counterparts to the fantastic Juliana. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is understated and classy as Trade Minister Tagomi, whilst Joel de la Fuenta is deliciously malevolent as Inspector Kido.

The second half of the series comes alive with questions of morality and loyalty, but never gets bogged down in it. It careers towards something obscure and dark, something inevitably disastrous, but remains hopeful. It can only end badly, surely, but there is a glimmer of “what if?” running through the narrative. Even in the films being smuggled, the hope of liberty glints.

It’s stylishly portrayed. Times Square harbouring Swastikas is a disquieting image. Nazi architecture is sinister. The glory of the Reich meets a run-down 1950s America, and the result is breathtaking. Costume and set are both realistic and meaningful. It’s a world of two extremes: desperation and glamour, perhaps similar to the real 1950s New York.

The soundtrack melds perfectly with the action. There is a particular scene during the Crown Prince’s Speech in which music is used to devastating effect. A similar sequence at the end of episode 6, in which Evans’ Frank listens to a Jewish prayer, is a stunning moment. The series is full of small moments which take your breath away and make your hair stand on end.

The Man in the High Castle is staggering. Unafraid. Stylish. Relevant, disturbingly, in this time of rising right-wing nationalism. It’s starkly human.

9/10

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