Dead Ringers is an acquired taste, but it might also be one of the best series of the year – just try to forget about its hugely ambiguous ending.
BY JOHN MCDONALD APRIL 28, 2023
David Cronenberg’s 1988 psychological thriller Dead Ringers was one that left many a jaw on the floor – as many of his films often do – but was the film version an exception to when weird meets harmoniously with excellence to create something of that magnitude? Attempting to live up to, but definitely not copying the blueprint, is Alice Birch’s (Normal People) version of Dead Ringers. This Amazon exclusive will take you on a six-episode journey through breach births, crowning babies, very real-looking c-sections, and a myriad of hugely enjoyable dark humour (although, it’s surely not for everyone) that has been lightly scattered over the top.
The big question that should be on the cusp of everyone’s lips is: could you turn the basis of the 1988 classic into an episodic story? Could it really be stretched that far? 30 years have passed between the two iterations, which means a lot of technological advances have been birthed (the first of several gynaecology-based jokes you may stumble across during this review). But for the medical industry, and for the good of science, Alice Birch clearly saw something that could be experimented with – and that’s not just with a woman’s womb either.
Whether or not the series is as good as the film is up for interpretation, but it definitely has a long list of brilliant aspects that make it stunning in its own right. One of those is the acting clinic that Rachael Weisz puts on in with her portrayal of the twin protagonists, Elliot and Beverly (the gender-swapped characters that Jeremy Irons first made famous). Weisz is a tour de force, and the former Oscar winner seems to have had exceptional fun fluttering between twin one and twin two, who are only distinguishable through twin one’s free-flowing hair and twin two’s tidy little bun – the character’s shared scenes are phenomenal as well. The Emmys will surely be calling for Weisz, and we’ll all be on the picket line if they’re not.
Beverly and Elliot Mantle both work in Manhattan Hospital but aspire for something bigger, something more, which comes in the form of a lovely new birthing centre – although the dream is real for both, the twins want it for very different reasons. Beverly is kind-hearted and goes the extra mile for any potential mother that walks through the door, while also sharing in the pain of any catastrophic birthing failure that afflicts so many women, as she so kindly shows us in the first ten minutes through the extremely visceral image of her own tragic miscarriage. This first experience is only the beginning of the gore and guts that appear at various moments in the series. Prepare for cutting, screaming, squirting, and even more brutal cutting – it’s really not for the faint-hearted.
Elliot is wild and eats men up as quick as she eats sweets. She prefers the science of it all, being far more at home in the lab than at the bedside of a struggling would-be mother. She plans to cause a ruckus with this new centre, becoming the reincarnation of Doctor Frankenstein, hoping to pull the wool over Mother Nature’s eyes. The Mantle twins are offered the chance to make this dream a reality when wicked billionaire Rebecca (Jennifer Ehle) and her team of morally comfortable investors spike their interest in the centre. The series’ second episode is one of the more memorable, as the twins meet their match around a dinner table – a motif that seems crucial to the series’ most intense moments – and converge in some… highly questionable conversations.
The twin’s profound relationship starts to show cracks, with both parties' mental well-being taking a huge knock as their psyches prep themselves for a balcony jump. It’s magnified by the inclusion of famous actor Genevieve (Britne Oldford) – a variation of the character played by Geneviève Bujold in the film – who wins the affections of Beverly, much to the annoyance of the mentally unbalanced Elliot. But can you really come between twins? Joined by a bond that has been shared since the warmth of their mother’s womb. And speaking of mothers, Suzanne Bertish appears as the Mantle matriarch in the interesting fourth episode which breaks away from the madness ever so slightly. Poppy Liu also appears and portrays the Mantle twin’s maid, Greta, although her role seems oddly shtum throughout, only being prominent on a couple of occasions.
Dead Ringers is an acquired taste, but it might also be one of the best series of the year – just try to forget about its hugely ambiguous ending and you should be all good. It has everything you need to succeed: great humour, fantastic acting, the perfect amount of shock factor, and a storyline that differs from the film while still packing the magic. And just to top it off is some of the most creative and effective editing seen on television for some time, particularly with its combination of sound and vision (to take the words from the mouth of Bowie himself). This is not a series that will make you think indifferently to the film, nor should the film be seen as a superior version of the story, they are both so different while also professing a lot of the same charm, and that is why this Amazon series will leave a last impression on its viewers.