In Review

The Man in the High Castle, Amazon's addictive new thriller

Will dystopian drama about life in Nazi-ruled America become the next must-watch box set?

Amazon's big-budget dystopian thriller, The Man in the High Castle, debuts on its streaming service today and reviewers are already hooked.

The series, based on a book by sci-fi writer Philip K Dick, and scripted by Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files), imagines what life would be like in the US if the Nazis had won the Second World War. The pilot became Amazon's most-watched original drama when it debuted in January and from today the full season of ten episodes is available to download.

In this alternative history, it is 1962 and the US has been partitioned into three parts ruled by the Japanese, the Nazis, and a neutral zone that acts as a buffer between the two areas. The story focuses on Juliana (Alexa Davalos) a young aikido student who unwittingly becomes involved in a resistance movement when her sister is killed by the authorities.

Critics were impressed by the pilot and are now giving the season positive reviews.

Tim Goodman in the Hollywood Reporter calls The Man in the High Castle a "bold, intriguing, visually-impressive effort".

It's an oddly compelling twist on history, says Goodman, one that has a science fiction feel without spaceships or aliens but instead presents a kind of alien among us. Goodman concludes that this "refreshingly intriguing" series is "worth the investment".

Maureen Ryan in Variety agrees, saying The Man in the High Castle starts well and gains weight and heft as it goes.

Ryan praises the show's "fantastic world-building" that sees every single element of the Japanese Pacific States' San Francisco and the Greater Nazi Reich on the east coast given a tactile, detailed reality.  

She adds that this "serious, ambitious drama" is less of a character study, and more a meditation on how powerful and corrosive forces work their way through society. It also asks whether individuals can really make a difference, says Ryan, and explores the answer in "an intelligent and visually exhilarating way".

James Poniewozik in the New York Times agrees that the show is "chilling" and "unsettling", but worries that the character building is weaker than the world building.

Juliana and her boyfriend Frank (Rupert Evans), the main ensemble leads, take a while to emerge as individuals, says Poniewozik. But Rufus Sewell stands out as a pitiless American Nazi leader who is also a mild-mannered patriarch at home.

Despite this, says Poniewozik, the show marries its heady ideas with an assortment of genres from sci-fi to espionage thriller and mysticism to create a mystery that is "bracing" and "addictive". 

All episodes are available to download from Amazon. 

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