Audrey Niffenegger took a very different look at time travel with her 2003 novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife. Instead of time travel being used in an exact manner to skip through the years, Niffenegger’s take on time travel has it being a random occurrence out of the control of Henry, the man who has a weird genetic order.
This means that Henry pops in and out of periods in his own lifetime all anchored to Clare, a woman he technically meets when she is 20 but has actually visited her more than 150 times before their first encounter.
The time travel element can get a little confusing, but the romance between Henry and Clare is very clear. They both must embrace the times they have together because Henry can blink out without notice.
This unorthodox love story was adapted into a 2009 feature film and is now a six-episode series that will debut at 9 p.m. May 15 on HBO and also will be available on the streaming service of HBO Max.
Steven Moffat – the man behind numerous seasons of “Doctor Who” – is the writer and an executive producer on the series. His reason for tackling the complicated tale of time and relationships is simple.
“Well, time travel and love, what else is there? I don’t know. I think actually I loved the idea of time travel affecting romance when I read this book,” Moffat says. “But I think what is brilliant and thrilling about the interaction of time travel and a love story here is it makes the most common phenomenon of a completely happy marriage interesting again.
“I mean, love stories tend to end at the altar or love movies do. A romance movie ends at the altar or they start with the divorce. We never do the bit where people are perfectly happy with each other for decades because it seems like an undramatic thing, in a way. By scrambling it all up and by constantly reminding you that love is inextricably linked to loss – which is a cheery thought for you all – you make this very common phenomenon of the happy marriage interesting, thrilling, and full of tension and tragedy, as well as joy and happiness.”
The task of telling the time-leaping love story falls to Rose Leslie as Clare Abshire, who is the anchor in the relationship, and Theo James as Henry DeTamble, the man who is chronologically challenged.
The acting task for James is complicated by how his character often ends up talking to other versions in time of himself. And, there is the fact that one of the rules of time travel is that Henry can not take anything with him – including clothes.
Shooting the series began to mess with James’ head. Not only did he have to deal with playing the same character in different years and at different ages, there was the complication that television programs are not always shot in chronological order. There were days when the filming at the beginning of the day focused on one year and then shifted to a different year at the end of the day.
All James could do was make sure he tackled each scene with every ounce of his acting ability and bank on Moffat’s writing creating the right story-telling flow.
Another complication with the story has to do with age. Although it is established Henry and Clare first meet and fall in love when they are adults, Henry travels back in time with his deep passion for Clare to be with her when she is as young as 6 years old.
Moffat stresses that in terms of the age difference, there is never any suggestion at any point in the book, in the movie, in his version that there’s anything other than the fact that Henry is in love with the grownup version of Claire.
“He’s not in love with the child. He’s in love with the grownup. This is very much a story of grownup love. Absolutely about that. Very much. It’s mature in that sense,’ Moffat says. “He meets a child. He behaves as a gentleman should meeting a young child. I didn’t find that problematic.
“I think it’s beautifully handled in the novel, and we took a cue from that. It’s about love and marriage.”
As to the question of whether they would embrace time travel if it was real, James and Moffat have very different opinions. James would welcome the opportunity to travel back in time to a period when the world was less complicated in terms of the sheer mass of people on the planet.
James points to a statistic that says during the end of the Second World War, there were two and a half billion people or just nearing three on the planet. That number has doubled since then and keeps going up. He would just like to walk down the street or visit a park with fewer people.
Moffat would have nothing to do with time travel.
“I would not like to go back to any previous era. The dentistry would be appalling. The medical care would be wretched and we’d still have most of the pandemic to go. So I’m perfectly happy here,” Moffat says.