TV miniseries review: Alice (2009), directed by Nick Willing
Alice is a Syfy Channel take on Alice in Wonderland (or Through the Looking Glass, I’m never quite sure which one’s which). It’s to the Lewis Carroll story what Tin Man is to The Wizard of Oz, more or less. It’s about a young woman called Alice (Caterina Scorsone) who is a martial arts instructor living with her mother, who has been trying to locate her missing father ever since he went missing when she was a child. She starts dating Jack (Philip Winchester, soon to be in the new series of Strike Back, yay!) and even though they’ve only just started going out, he gives her a ring. It’s just too much too soon for Alice, and as he gets a text message telling him to run, he quickly makes his excuses. As she runs after him, he gets bundled up into a van, she tries to follow and stumbles through a big mirror in a back street somewhere, and ends up in a world quite different to our own: Wonderland.
Wonderland is ruled by the ruthless Queen (Kathy Bates) and King (Colm Meaney) of Hearts, who capture any people from the real world (so-called “oysters”) and drain them of emotions (which are then bottled and sold). Alice gets taken away by one of the oyster collecting ships, but manages to get away and ends up finding Hatter (Andrew Lee Potts, the stunner in Primeval), who decides to try and help her find Jack. Things don’t quite end up to plan, and in the course of trying to find out about the ring and about Jack, they also encounter the dotty White Knight (Matt Frewer) and a resistance man played by Tim Curry.
Hopes were very high for this miniseries, both with me and the Squeeze. We had seen Tin Man and we both really enjoyed it. Alice had been on our V+ box for quite some time before we finally sat down and watched it. Small problem, though: what we thought were parts one and two were in fact part one, twice. Bit of an anticlimax! We ended up getting the DVD as we really wanted to see the other half.
Personally, I preferred Tin Man, to be honest. On the plus side, Alice has Kathy Bates in it, and she’s one of my favourite actresses. I can’t sit here and say that I didn’t enjoy Alice, because I did, it was great fun and I loved all the twists and turns and the wonderfully weird place that is Wonderland, and the concept of draining people of emotions and then selling them as a way to control the population is inspired. Everything is excellent, really, and perhaps uses less “magic” than Tin Man (which had a ritual in the end and things like that), so more realistic in a way, but … oh, I don’t know. It’s unfair to compare the two because while they are re-imaginings of classical novels, and both are about a different world and a girl from there who have been put into the real world and then returns and finds she’s some sort of legendary hero (or princess), they’re two different stories.
The White Knight was a bit over-the-top and Don Quixote-like, but amusing. The love triangle between Alice, Jack, and Hatter was … peculiar. In fact, while watching it, I said “I wonder how many fanfics this relationship has spawned”. (To be fair to Alice, if I had to choose between Philip Winchester and Andrew Lee Potts, I’d be struggling too!) The ending of it, and indeed the whole two-part miniseries, was excellent. It made my heart leap, and it was all very romantic. Perfect, just what the doctor ordered. If you’re not too keen on love stories, don’t worry, the show wasn’t soppy or anything.
Overall, it’s a very enjoyable and very imaginative take on a classic. It’s modernised, and while it uses the same sort of elements as Tin Man, they don’t feel as steampunky here. The setting is more … modern. It gets marks down for being too heavy-handed with Alice’s buttkicking-ness (she’s a martial arts teacher, remember?) and her fear of heights, which felt more construed as a “she kicks butt but she needs to have a flaw … I know, let’s have her have a fear of heights and let’s have the city in Wonderland have breathtaking drops just to unnerve her”. Meh, I say. It’s 4 out of 5 flying flamingo scooters.