'Welcome to New London. We have three rules — no privacy, no family, no monogamy. Everyone is very happy.’
If this sounds like a promotional brochure for a Club 18-30 holiday, it’s actually the opening statement of a new TV dramatisation of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World.
Its main character, Lenina Crowne, is about to get a ticking-off from a government official for being in an ‘exclusive sexual relationship’ for more than two months.
Crowne — played by Jessica Brown Findlay, alias Lady Sybil Crawley in Downton Abbey, but not very lady-like this time — looks ashamed but fetching in her shiny mini-dress as Bernard Marx (fellow British actor Harry Lloyd) shows her some graphic hologram footage of her recent trysts with — tut, tut — the same man.
Marx remonstrates with her for the sheer selfishness of not sharing herself and her lover with the wider adult population. ‘Everyone belongs to everyone else,’ she agrees, reciting one of the mantras of her society, but it’s clear that she has her doubts about that.
'Welcome to New London. We have three rules — no privacy, no family, no monogamy.’ If this sounds like a promotional brochure for a Club 18-30 holiday, it’s actually the opening statement of a new TV dramatisation of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World
Oh well, nothing that a good orgy won’t sort out — and there are plenty of those in this glossy nine-part loose adaptation that comes to Sky One this evening.
Sex is always on the minds of the perfectly groomed beautiful people who waft around futuristic New London — a seemingly benign, trouble-free and utterly antiseptic society — even if it’s rather more explicit than it was in Huxley’s story. One thing he couldn’t have predicted was the salacious imperatives of today’s TV commissioners.
Many people love to hail the bleak, mind-controlling tyranny created with 1984 by George Orwell (who, by coincidence, was briefly taught by Huxley at Eton) as uncannily prescient. But in many ways it was Huxley who has proved much nearer the mark — and he wrote his book nearly 20 years earlier.
In so many ways, the world Huxley envisaged — one of freely available designer drugs, casual sex, Viagra-like chewing gum, chemical birth control, genetic engineering, cloning and a sybaritic society fixated on instant gratification and limitless consumption — is with us already.
In the opening scenes, its main character, Lenina Crowne (played by Jessica Brown-Findlay), is about to get a ticking-off from a government official for being in an ‘exclusive sexual relationship’ for more than two months
The title is taken from Shakespeare’s The Tempest and was deeply ironic given that it is used to describe a band of shipwrecked ne’er-do-wells who have just washed up on a beach.
Huxley was being ironic too, given that the England he created was a utopia that was really a thinly-concealed dystopia. As Jessica Brown Findlay puts it: ‘It seems perfect. But the minute you scratch the surface, you start to discover stuff.’ She added: ‘But, yeah, a couple of days there? That would be great.’
His imagined world isn’t oppressive in the same way as Orwell’s but Huxley, later famous as an early experimenter with the hallucinogenic drug LSD, shocked his generation and, indeed, generations of later readers — often reading it at school — with the book’s vision of a world utterly corrupted by science, capitalism and self-indulgence.
Even the clothing in Brave New World was scandalous — the women wear zippers on everything, such as Lenina’s so-called ‘zippicamiknicks’ underwear, but in Huxley’s day zippers were condemned by vicars because they made clothes so easy to take off.
Also in the cast is Hollywood star Demi Moore as John the Savage's mother Linda, who Huxley portrayed as a drug and drink-addled mess and still has her personal problems, but proves resourceful in a crisis
Set in England in AF632 (632 years ‘After [Henry] Ford’, the car pioneer and inventor of the mass production line who is venerated in a society in which even babies are produced on an assembly line), the book’s characters live on a high-tech globe divided into peaceful ‘World States’.
Harmony is achieved by keeping people high on a mood-enhancement drug called soma and by a ruthless policy of artificially-controlled birth and cloning. Graded from Epsilon Minus (virtual automatons indoctrinated to enjoy their menial work) up to Alpha Plus (brainboxes and the unchallenged ruling class), people have been genetically engineered for their role in society — the lower castes stunted as foetuses with alcohol.
Disease and ageing have been banished, and everyone lives in a world of hedonistic but bland conformity. As women no longer give birth (Lenina is one of many sterilised women, or freemartins), sex is simply recreation. Everyone is worry-free, so long as they keep popping pills.
As the public address system of London continually reassures citizens: ‘Everybody in their place — everybody happy now.’ Bright but pompous Bernard Marx, an Alpha Plus, takes Lenina (a pouting Beta Plus) on a holiday to the ‘Savage Reservation’ in New Mexico to see naturally-born indigenous people and all their disgusting primitive ways such as pregnancy, illness and romantic love.
They meet Linda who, like them, originally came from the World State but was stranded there and brought up a naturally-born son, John, alias ‘The Savage’, whose only education has been the complete works of Shakespeare.
Mother and son return with them to London where The Savage is appalled by the emptiness of this supposed ‘brave new world’, which in its own subtle way is just as