The Time Traveler’s Wife review: Steven Moffat’s adaptation lacks the power of the unexpected

There must be something about Audrey Niffenegger’s 2003 novel The wife of the time traveler, that keeps people back for more. After all, there was a feature film adaptation starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana in 2009 and now, in 2022, an eight-part television adaptation.

A love story where the obstacle is sudden and shocking time travel may not seem like the most universal of stories, but who can resist a doomed romance?

Henry (Theo James, a Hollywood man built into the lab) is a time traveler. Not a cool time traveler who can surf the space-time continuum, chirp Cleopatra and assassinate Hitler, but one whose time travel is random and explosive. He ends up backwards or forwards, at certain points in his life, naked and throwing up. “It’s not a superpower,” he proclaims, “it’s a disability.”

The story begins (sort of) the day he meets 20-year-old Clare (game of Thrones‘s Rose Leslie), a woman who seems to know that one day she will be his wife.

The two Brits (both comfortably playing Americans) make a good-looking couple, and while their performances may not have the deep star charisma, they’re both quite comfortable on a smaller sized screen. However, it’s quite a shame that their chemistry is kept at bay by some distracting aging prosthetics and a rather chaste sensibility.

Let’s get the creepy stuff out of the way. Henry enters Clare’s life through a mysterious attraction when she is about six years old. He visits her 152 times during the course of her childhood – and, let’s not forget, arrives naked as on the day he was born.

“Why do you like brushing your horse’s hair?” he asks this minor when they first meet. “It doesn’t clean,” she replies. “I take care of her.” Snap, says Henry almost.

The only thing that can mitigate the inherent grossness of the setup is the show’s attempt to tackle it head-on. “You were unbearable company during a very randy youth,” Clare informs him. “Well, you know, you were a kid,” replies Henry.

There’s something rather sinister about the premise, too: a lonely, troubled man whizzing through his own personal history, reliving his most traumatic moments, being ill and being beaten up at almost every corner.


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“Are we the bad guys?” an eight-year-old Henry asks his older self during his first time travel. “Survivors are always the bad guys,” replies his world-weary mentor. And yet in the hands of writer Steven Moffat – previously responsible for small shows such as Doctor Who and sherlock – there is an ease of the procedure.

This is not the story of a man trapped in a Sisyphean nightmare reliving the worst events of his life, but a whimsical romantic comedy about an often naked man and his beautiful bride child. This nudity is all butt, no penis, and to some extent the show itself is all butt, no penis.

Moffat’s tastes clearly lean towards clean-cut and mainstream and The wife of the time traveler is inflected throughout with the kind of nimble young-adult pace that made hits from shows like stranger things and The Queen’s Gambit.

Sure, there’s an occasional and menacing pool of blood (“You saw the blood,” old Henry says to his younger self as the plot mechanic kicks in, “You know something’s coming”), but generally the emotional core of the show is articulated and delivered without much subtext.

The exposition, meanwhile, is laced into mockumentary parts that support each episode. It’s blunt but effective.

How much you enjoy this new iteration of The wife of the time traveler will, I suspect, depend on your tolerance for a romantic and comedic palette of bright, understated colors.

“I’ve known you most of my life and you’re not what I expected,” Clare tells Henry as their timelines first converge.

The wife of the time traveler does not have the power of the unexpected. But it has a modest, formulaic appeal that will likely make you want to go back (and back) for more.

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/reviews/the-time-travelers-wife-series-review-cast-hbo-b2080532.html The Time Traveler’s Wife review: Steven Moffat’s adaptation lacks the power of the unexpected


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