Big-budget alternative history drama The Man in the High Castle is the latest Original Series to drop on Amazon Prime. “It is based on a novel by Philip K Dick,” creator Frank Spotnitz explains. “It takes place in 1962 in a world where the allies have lost World War Two.”
It’s a book which has clearly left an impact on a number of its readers. “I read the book when I was in college,” Spotnitz tells us. “I’d watched so much TV and so many movies where the good guys always win and it really struck me that this was a story where the good guys had not only lost, they lost a long time ago. It was about living in defeat and how you make your way in the world when the bad guys are in charge.
“I’d read it a long, long time ago,” adds star Alexa Davalos. “It had oddly stayed with me in kind of an eerie way. To see the script felt like a bit of a sign.”
The drama is intriguing and hugely ambitious, introducing us to a 1960s America that is completely unrecognisable – no flower power, no Beatles, no mini-skirts. “The Nazis control the Eastern half of the country, the Imperial Japanese the west coast. They are divided by a lawless neutral zone running up the rocky mountains,” explains Spotnitz. “Most of the Nazis you see in this show are Americans, they’re not Germans. It really makes you think about why people do evil things, what the nature of freedom is, how you maintain humanity in inhumane circumstances.”
Naturally there are some changes to get used to for dedicated followers of the novel. “I had to build out the world, I had to add characters and plot to make it a TV narrative,” says Spotnitz.
One of the biggest and most obvious differences is to do with a “tangible” and mysterious object at the heart of the story. “In the novel, the man in the high castle has written a book where the allies won World War Two, and in the TV series it’s a film that shows the allies winning the war.”
This film reel is something all our main characters come into contact with, and which forces them into the drama in incredibly different ways.
Juliana Crane (Alexa Davalos) is the first to be introduced to viewers. “She’s an incredible creature,” Davalos tells us. “She’s really an ordinary woman trying to survive under Japanese occupation. What’s intriguing about her is that she is involved in the Japanese culture even though she’s living under such oppression and she’s lost her family due to the war.
“She suffers another loss. She’s given something tangible and it takes her on a journey that I can’t even describe. She winds up in extraordinary circumstances.”
During this “insane rollercoaster” of a journey, Juliana meets Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank.) “He’s an adventurous young man under the powers of the Nazis in New York City. You get to see the world unfold through his eyes,” Kleintank explains. “In episode one he’s sent on a mission by the resistance and he goes on this journey across the United States to the neutral zone.”
There’s certainly more than meets the eye when it comes to Joe, but Kleintank says he didn’t find it hard to pin down who he really is. “He’s a young man trying to find himself. I’m a young man trying to find myself. We taught each other a lot.”
And the third piece of the puzzle? Frank Frink (played by Rupert Evans), the boyfriend Juliana leaves behind in San Francisco.
“Frank Frink is a man who is trying to toe the line and keep his head down,” Evans tells us. “He is trying to survive under this dictatorship. He’s a relatively law abiding citizen who lives with his girlfriend Juliana.
“It’s not until Juliana and her sister get involved in dangerous activities that he gets dragged in. Added to that is his heritage. He’s half Jewish and that adds complications. Suddenly he finds his life being turned upside down by the disappearance of Juliana. Terrible things happen.”
It’s a gripping story in an incredible setting. And it might be an imagined past, but Spotnitz reckons The Man in the High Castle has something to say about the present and the future.
“Like all good science fiction it’s about something. It invites you to ask questions, not so much about the past but about today, the world we live in now. There’s nothing inevitable about the good guys winning,” he says. “If you want the world to be just you’ve got to fight to make it that.”
“We say all the time that history repeats itself,” adds Kleintank. “There’s a quote, ‘Misunderstanding of the present grows fatally from the ignorance of the past.’ I think that says it all right there.”
The full first series might have just dropped on Amazon, but Spotnitz – and his cast – are already thinking about season two.
“I have so many, very expensive ideas,” Spotniz laughs. “I’m talking to Amazon about that right now!”
“The world that Philip K Dick has created is so vast that we’ll be here potentially for many years,” adds Evans. “He showed you in the book not only America but Europe, Eastern Europe, Africa… It’s kind of endless.
“Frank now gets emails from me at 3 o’clock in the morning, giving him ideas which I probably shouldn’t do!” he laughs. “Even us actors are coming up with [them]…”
The Man in the High Castle is available exclusively on Amazon Prime from 20th November