Must Watch! The Man in The High Castle chosen by Frances Anderton
Each week we ask a respected film or furniture expert to recommend a film or series that should be on all our ‘To Watch’ lists. This week our Must Watch is a series chosen by design expert and broadcaster Frances Anderton, host of DnA: Design and Architecture on the highly respected, California-based KCRW Radio.
The Man in The High Castle
What would happen if Fascism had won in 1945 and the Axis powers controlled the world?
That’s the premise of The Man in The High Castle, the adaptation of the 1962 Philip K. Dick novel that bears a fascinating resonance with our current troubled times. Executively produced by Frank Spotnitz and Ridley Scott and now in its third season on Amazon Prime, The Hollywood Reporter has called the show, “by far the best and most consistently ominous drama of the Trump era.”
But the main reason for watching The Man in The High Castle is that it is stunning, from the acting — topped by Rufus Sewell as the dangerously alluring American Nazi Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith — to the art direction.
It opens with a title sequence by Elastic, sweeping through imagery of a world in which Germany has invented Concorde and dropped the first atom bomb, set to a haunting rendition of Edelweiss.
Then you find yourself in an America divided into three parts: the Nazi-controlled “Eastern United States”; the “Pacific States of America” (P.S.A.) on the West ruled by the Imperial Japanese; and the middle Neutral Zone, or Rocky Mountains States, a kind of Wild West inhabited by society’s outcasts and resistant fighters on the run from both regimes, such as lead characters Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) and Frank Frink (Rupert Evans).
Each of these universes have been rendered in minute detail and intense atmospherics by production designer Drew Boughton and team.
In New York, wives of top Nazis in starched dresses hold tea parties and drive big period cars filled with perfect Aryan children while their husbands plot global domination – and inter-party machinations – in penthouses with views onto Manhattan skyscrapers now decked with swastikas and steeped in Speer-esque [the Nazi architect] gloom.
On the West Coast we see a San Francisco that has been suffused with influences from pre-war Japan, from the billboards and signage to the homes and offices of Japanese leaders, hybrids of traditional Japanese architecture and Northern California Modern (which was itself influenced by Japan.)
Then you have the native-born Americans, figuring out how to survive and grasping for memories from a pre-World War II past, embodied in Robert Childan (Brennan Brown), an antiques dealer selling old American artifacts to the Japanese ruling class. It is truly mindbending to watch as he wheedles and haggles over the sale of old Western belt buckles or portraits of past American heroes, now seen as curiosities.
Not only does the show ask you to imagine what if; it also forces you to grapple with the indignities of empire, when you are the colonized. So young Americans and covert Jews live in fear of their homes being raided or being brutalised at work, and white women are the mistresses of their Asian occupiers.
All this unfolds while you are kept drooling over the creativity of the visual designers. Oh, and did I mention, there’s also an alternate reality within this alternate reality?
Expect to spend more time there in Season 4.
Frances Anderton is host of KCRW’s DnA: Design and Architecture. Check out their podcasts including an interview with Film and Furniture Founder and Editor, Paula Benson.
You can also find Frances and DnA on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook
When and where can you watch this series?