With all the gusto of a Succession-savvy screenwriter, Emmy-nominated Alice Birch (Normal People) resurrects and reinterprets David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers on Prime Video from 21 April.
Gone are the cold and clinical flourishes which so defined the 1988 adaptation — starring Jeremy Irons as Beverly and Elliot Mantel — to be replaced with a more feminine take from an exceptional Rachel Weisz on career-best form.
This new take does away with the tedious pacing which hampered the original, peppering it with lashings of lascivious language, effortlessly moving Dead Ringers 2023 into the realms of greatness.
Opening on the Mantel twins (Rachel Weisz) eating in a diner, Alice Birch and her cohorts set about establishing differences between these medically gifted mirror images – oblivious to other customers and completely consumed by their own company.
Elliot attacks life with a voracious appetite, leaving scorch marks in her wake as physical attraction comes easily, brazen attitudes reap rewards, and outspoken opinions instil confidence. Across from her sits Beverly, an introspective observer on life, who is intellectually astute, intentionally guarded, and quietly calculating: the acceptable face for corporate functions, and fund-raising benefits.
Yet the fact that they devote themselves to the study of female fertility, focusing in on making that miraculous moment dignified for all mothers, is merely a launch pad for larger debates in this supremely complex series.
With the dialogue capable of creating its own electric current, and characters which crackle with an obstinate originality, there is little chance of Dead Ringers mark two being anything other than excellent.
Playing opposite herself, aided and abetted by an unseen Kitty Hawthorne, Rachel Weisz is foul-mouthed and forthright, yet eloquently understated and low key. All too soon audiences will simply see her as a single entity elegantly dissected.
Whether coaxing inappropriate behaviour from unwitting husbands or fussing over carefully conceived diagrams in readiness for important presentations, the psychological division in terms of performance from this actor is astounding. However, when the defining plot point kicks in involving Jennifer Ehle (Rebecca) — as both Mantels look for investment in their birthing and research centre — then that portrayal attains another level of complexity all together.
Read more: New on Prime Video in April
As sub-plots begin to branch off in different directions, calling into question the psychological stability of Elliot, or the fertility issues surrounding Beverly, shades of the original incarnation begin to emerge. Slowly tapping into the emotional detachment, which initially marked out that Cronenberg vision as such a radical departure from expectations in 1988.
Slowly but surely the biological link which allowed both Beverly and Elliot Mantel to succeed in life begins to erode, as the introverted element in this equation falls for Genevieve (Britne Oldford), a television actor who calls in for treatment. This drives a wedge between the identical twins as Beverly’s affections are channelled elsewhere for the first time.
However, if the driving force of Dead Ringers was solely focused on sibling rivalry, then audiences would only make it through a single hour of this six-part series. Compounded clichés and stereotypical story telling would undo all the good work laid out in that opening, but thankfully Alice Birch, amongst others, takes the narrative into uncharted water, by addressing ethical and moral dilemmas which broaden the playing field.
Read more: New on Sky Cinema/NOW in April
Genetic editing at the embryonic phase is discussed, as well as digressions into delaying the menopause, before these guests dive into a debate around abortion. That all this happens at a dinner party where the host serves horse will tell audiences as much as they need to know about the people eating.
Beyond the unflinching depiction of childbirth which assaults the senses in that opening episode combined with some inspired introductions, this dinner table scene will literally turn the tables on any expectations going forward.
With shades of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange bleeding through the soundtrack, through to a combination of insulated anarchy and uber-rich shenanigans – this is when Dead Ringers becomes a completely different animal.
Read more: New on Disney+ in April
Any amount of sophistication which had been established through character, dialogue, or story telling is elevated as this series morphs into a social commentary piece. What remains fascinating about Dead Ringers from that moment on comes down to how it manages to maintain momentum, keeping all those topics airborne, and retaining the sheen of a mainstream show.
With outstanding support from the likes of Jeremy Stamos (Joseph), Emily Meade (Susan), and Allyson Kloster (McKenzie) - this series successfully revels in the essence of Cronenberg, before taking that inspiration and cranking it up to ten.
Dead Ringers is something truly original but and no doubt, come 2024, Rachel Weisz will be up for awards.
Dead Ringers is available to stream from 21 April on Prime Video.