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Friday, 23 October 2009

A For Andromeda (2006)

This retelling of the classic 1960s science fiction drama was made in 2006 by BBC4, and is quite honestly one of the most beautiful pieces of science fiction television I have ever had the pleasure of watching. The DVD is a prized possession, and with every viewing, this elegant, graceful adaptation improves. It was made on a relatively low budget, but this isn't all that evident. What is evident here is class, and lots of it.

I saw this on its original TV airing and snapped up the DVD as soon as I found a copy. A For Andromeda is gorgeous science fiction, the likes of which really isn't made enough nowadays. It is a story of ideas, science and morality that, thanks to the care taken in making it, is yet to date, and probably wont do for some time yet. The cast is phenomenal, for a start. Tom Hardy, Jane Asher and David Haig are all on top form, but it is Kelly Reilly that takes the breath away here as the dual roles of Christine Jones and Andromeda. Her mannerisms later in the film are outstanding, and go a long way to differentiating between the two characters she plays.

The plot of the piece, which after the original was stolen for films such as Species, surrounds a remote scientific outpost that receives a signal from the stars, containing information on how to build a supercomputer and in turn a living being. The Ministry of Defence takes interest, and soon the alien technology is being used to design biological weapons. This goes awry when Christine is killed (we are never shown how she dies, but it involves the supercomputer), and the new lifeform that is being grown copies her likeness and awakens with her face and voice. This causes some very palpable tension between Andromeda and Tom Hardy's character, whom her human incarnation had been having an affair with. Thing then take a much more sinister turn as the real meaning behind the message and the creation of Andromeda become apparent. The film has one of the most moving final acts of any TV based drama I have ever seen.

The locations in the film are bleak when it comes to exteriors and claustrophobic with interiors. The few effects that are used in the film are so well implemented that you barely notice their presence, and the soundtrack is understated and eerie. The sub-plots are few, giving ample screentime to the main plot and the conflict off the characters. As a piece of TV drama it is near flawless, and as a piece of science fiction it is beautiful. Nothing is overstated. Nothing is blown out of proportion. This small production with its small, self contained story manages to come across as epic through dialogue alone. The implications of the technology drawn from the alien codes is plain to see, but then, when people start trying to play God, its dangers become all too clear.

I honestly wish there were more science fiction productions like this being made. Small budget, talented cast and crew, and an idea that carries a good deal of dramatic weight. It doesn't rely on special effects, set pieces or bombast. It makes its point quietly and in a most tasteful manner that still manages to be quite unsettling and frightening. A For Andromeda is a one-off production that is truly special, and the DVD, containing a great making off feature and a production booklet with extensive notes, is an absolute must have. I would rank this up there with Doctor Who's 'Blink' and 'Human Nature' stories and the magnificent Torchwood: Children of Earth mini series as some of the best science fiction made this decade. Sublime.

The BBC page about A For Andromeda

A great clip from the TV film:

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