'The Time Traveler's Wife' review: Steven Moffat captures the magic of the book with TV remake

Clare Abshire (Rose Leslie) and Henry DeTamble (Theo James) in The Time Traveler's Wife (Sky/HBO)
Clare Abshire (Rose Leslie) and Henry DeTamble (Theo James) in The Time Traveler's Wife (Sky/HBO)

Literature like The Time Traveler’s Wife always inspires lonely hearts with romantic notions who search for solace in rose-tinted encounters.

Forever seeking love in their everyday lives, whilst counting on serendipity to give things a little nudge — a notion that Sky has taken on board for Steven Moffat's adaptation of The Time Traveler’s Wife; its new limited series available from 16 May.

Adapted from the international best seller by Audrey Niffenegger, it tells the story of Clare Abshire (Rose Leslie) and Henry DeTamble (Theo James), a couple who are connected across decades, defined by chance encounters, and always inches away from happiness. A predicament which is made no easier since Henry travels through time.

Adapted as a feature film in 2009, with Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams taking centre stage, this six-part limited series benefits hugely from a longer running time.

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With more room to let the material breathe, former Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat has crafted a delicate interpretation with charm to spare. A feat which is aided in no small measure by some savvy casting choices.

Clare Abshire (Rose Leslie) and Henry DeTamble (Theo James) in The Time Traveler's Wife (Sky/HBO)
Clare Abshire (Rose Leslie) and Henry DeTamble (Theo James) in The Time Traveler's Wife (Sky/HBO)

Rose Leslie, who many will remember from her long running role as Ygritte in Game of Thrones, not only nails the American accent but grounds the character instantly. As audiences experience every side of Clare, from coquettish teenager to concerned wife the story evolves seamlessly. A gradual transition over time which allows Leslie to add subtle shades to her performance.

Similarly, Theo James walks a thin line between wide eyed innocence and middle-aged wisdom, as he encounters different versions of himself and his future wife at various times. A situation that makes The Time Traveler’s Wife solely reliant on their chemistry and charisma, with next to no wriggle room. Thankfully, this calculated risk pays off throughout, as the beguiling pair make their mark.

It is also worth noting how clever Steven Moffat has been when approaching the structure to this series. Not only working in subtle but essential nods to its source material, but also lifting a very simple device from Niffenegger’s chapter headings, allowing audiences to concisely keep track of points in time.

Watch a trailer for The Time Traveler’s Wife

A device which cunningly flags their changing ages from scene to scene, before tying that back into the narrative with ingenious ease. Meaning that episodes fly by as Moffat peppers each one with numerous moments of flashback, which loop back around and connect together like puzzled pieces. Ensuring that audiences keep watching, whilst turning this into an old fashioned romance which just keeps giving.

By exploring the idea of relationships from a very unique perspective, it also draws on major themes from Niffenegger’s book, whilst trying to make sense of the serendipitous connections which bring people together. An idea which naturally touches on something more abstract regarding identity, making this about much more than just lovers trapped in time.

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In an effort to exploit the tenuous connection these two characters share, The Time Traveler’s Wife also seeks to celebrate our eternal need for companionship. As a premise it celebrates the idea of cherishing every moment as incurably romantic, irrefutably foolish, yet undeniably human. A sense of love struck optimism which Moffat manages to capture in spades and channel throughout.

Clare Abshire (Rose Leslie) in The Time Traveler's Wife (Sky/HBO)
Clare Abshire (Rose Leslie) in The Time Traveler's Wife (Sky/HBO)

As the truth of Henry’s predicament becomes increasingly problematic, it is clear that their story will be tinged with tragedy. A fact which makes this story almost Shakespearean in its construction, since with love there must also come sacrifice. Not only because dramas are dictated by friction as much as infatuation, but because everything comes at a cost.

In only fifty minutes as that first episode draws to a close, audiences will be emotionally all in. So convincing is their connection and so perfect is the pacing as a whole, that those of a romantic disposition will be inconsolable — counting down the days until that next episode hits Sky Atlantic.

For those people who think they have seen it before with the Richard Curtis film About Time, rest assured this literary approach offers infinitely more depth. As The Time Traveler’s Wife uses its singular plot device to explore soulmates as a tangible ideal, not just a romantic pipe dream.

Clare Abshire (Rose Leslie) and Henry DeTamble (Theo James) in The Time Traveler's Wife (Sky/HBO)
Clare Abshire (Rose Leslie) and Henry DeTamble (Theo James) in The Time Traveler's Wife (Sky/HBO)

That Moffat has managed to bottle the thematic lightening of Niffenegger’s novel, without diluting its impact has to be celebrated. A statement which requires no more evidence than those first tentative ten minutes, when Rose Leslie and Theo James stick that dramatic landing.

A feat which is made possible by some disarming straight to camera dialogue, buckets of charm and some solid gold performances. Not only wrong-footing audiences by making their predicament uniquely relatable, but proving something else beyond doubt.

Nothing in this world is more precious, more important and more personal than our need to find love. If The Time Traveler’s Wife does nothing else but convince audiences of that fact, then Steven Moffat can walk away happy.

The Time Traveler’s Wife premieres on Sky Atlantic from 16 May.