It’s all in the music. The original series still has the most chilling, bone grinding theme music in TV history; it resembled classical music composed in the bowels of Satan and jettisoned into the world via the vocal chords of a delirious castrato.
And a contemporary kin of this remake, 28 Days Later (which essentially lifted much of the plot of John Wyndham’s novel), boasted the desolate majesty of Godspeed You! Black Emperor as the dazed Cillian Murphy staggered about post-rage London.
As Bill (Dougray Scott) and Jo (Joely Richardson) made their way through those same London streets, although here inhabited by the hordes of newly blind people, a solitary lament of a violin resonated. But it wasn’t the same. It lacked bleak foreboding of the TV series and the profound despair of 28 Days Later, and was plastic to the touch, trying to independently direct the viewer’s feelings rather than being an indissoluble part of the scene.
Thankfully, the actual drama compensated for this aural deficiency. While it felt, on occasion, too much like a formulaic straight-to-DVD thriller – the villains get their just desserts in the most horrid ways possible, father and son reconciliation before the inevitable demise of the now plot-redundant father – the foundations of the novel stand like beacons.
Most interesting was the manner in which the fragmented remains of humanity went about their survival. As with any post-apocalyptic drama, there’s always an improvised military junta. Here it was given depth and even charm through a charismatic, addictive performance from Eddie Izzard as the amoral Torrence.
His ruthless, practical philosophy made his usurpation of the bumbling remnants of the government entirely plausible, uniting behind him the greedy, the indecisive and those people just seeking to survive. Its ideology was most beautifully illustrated when Torrence initiated the streets to be cleared of the blind – who had been left to their deaths by the previous administration – not through altruism, but because it would sever the plentiful food supply that was drawing the triffids towards their fragile sanctuary in central London.
A similar practicality was adopted by Durrant (the superb Vanessa Redgrave), who had gathered about her a small congregation in a remote abbey. But her motives were anything but Godly. As soon as she believed that a member of the congregation no longer contributed to the upkeep of the community then they were despatched on ‘pilgrimages’ to the outside world. The pilgrimages were short; she directed them into the path of the waiting triffids, who seemed satisfied to patiently wait for their meals sent to them by the good sister.
Much was made of how the triffids in the remake were more terrifying than their plastic, static counterparts in the 80s series. We disagree. Perhaps it again was the music that propelled that series into some weird world that draped everything – even the unconvincing triffids – in an alien atmosphere. Or maybe it was the substitution of the sting with the prehensile roots as the main weapon, which reduced the plants to the common-or-garden Hollywood monster that generates tension by dragging characters to their potential doom until they can be rescued in the nick of time by the hero who cuts through the grasping root.
Dougray Scott made for a decent protagonist, playing Bill almost as an anti-hero. Often he would realise the futility of the situation – walking past and ignoring a column of blind people pleading entry to the government sanctuary – faithful to his analytical scientific mind, and quickly abandoning his optimistic plan to exterminate the triffids before they could be pollinated, and thus multiply in number. His dourness did make his relationship with Jo a bit pallid, but was economically employed at the end, impelling his desire to save her, and his new ‘daughters’, from the clutches of Torrence and the triffids.
And faithful to the novel, Bill and Jo makes their way to the Isle of Man to join a colony to complete an enjoyable mini-series with an austere but plausible denouement. However, it’s unlikely that in 30 years’ time any part of it will still haunt us like the theme music of the triffids’ previous incarnation.