As much as a great novel can seduce with its moving and sad story, it cannot escape the elephant in the room.
When Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife came out in 2003, public awareness of grooming and predatory behavior was much lower than it is now.
Thus, the story of how Claire and the time-traveling Henry fell in love became a great romance of love, passion and devotion. The fact that they first meet (for her) when she is six years old and he is an adult was slightly downplayed in passing in favor of the strength of Niffenegger’s moving story.
Instead, it was just the whimsical beginning of an all-consuming relationship that felt like destiny.
Nearly two decades later, a new television adaptation time traveler’s wife must address the elephant of the age difference in the room – and one wonders if the weight of the narrative is enough to overcome the glaring awkwardness.
This is a mixed bag. Series written for the screen by Steven Moffat (sherlock, Doctor Who) starring Rose Leslie and Theo James is a charming and gripping mini-series supported by the palpable chemistry of the main characters.
For those unfamiliar with history, Henry (James) is an unwitting time traveler. Due to a genetic defect, he appears and disappears (mostly) from his own timeline, gravitating towards the people most important to him.
This person is Claire (Leslie), whom he visits as a child between the ages of six and 18, until they meet in the same timeline when she is 20 and he is 28. But Henry and Claire have never been visited by either Henry’s version is older than 42, so they know something is coming.
With its beloved source material, the writing is solid and the production values are more than passable. It also moves at a crushing pace without losing much of its six-series run.
It’s not just the sparring in separate scenes that makes you root for Claire and Henry, but Moffat translates to screen Niffenegger’s assertion that while all romance is fleeting, making the most of every moment together makes it all worthwhile. .
The determinism of the future – that it ends – hangs over everything, but that’s why you need to enjoy the present, and it makes a compelling case for why Claire and Henry’s sad love story is worth watching. Because while it has moments that you wouldn’t want, it also has moments that are powerful – just like any novel.
Unfortunately, the show is never so gripping that you forget about Claire and Henry’s interactions when she was a child, especially as that relationship develops in tandem with their “modern” ones. There’s always the uneasy feeling that it’s not quite right, and the show doesn’t do enough to dispel that impression.
He’s trying. In the chronology of the series, the scene of his meeting at 28 years old with her at 20 years old is shown first. And Leslie and James are only two years apart in real life (compared to 10 years between Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana in the movie version), so visually they look like contemporaries in their scenes together.
But recreating the book cover, a shot of her little black Mary Janes and white ruffled socks next to his men’s-sized brown lace-up derbies, is a powerful reminder of unease.
The new TV adaptation knows this. It makes for a very conscious self-grooming joke in the first episode, and there’s some hand-wringing talk about both of them imprinting on each other.
The series also emphasizes that Claire is the more sexually aggressive of the couple and she “seduces” him, but she also talks about how her sexual desires have been shaped by his presence in her life since she was a child. This exchange was definitely a “oh gods” moment that can’t be shaken off.
Like Heinrich’s disease, which is a double-edged sword, time traveler’s wife similarly related to both the strength and the weakness of Niffenegger’s book.
If you want to delve into Claire and Henry’s sad love story, you must also embrace the sometimes eerie age difference.
‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ Now Streaming on Binge
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