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Sinister twin sisters wield all the power in the latest 'Dead Ringers' adaptation

David Cronenberg's 1988 movie Dead Ringers, like the book on which it was based, was all about birth, death, love and power — but mostly from the male point of view. This new six-episode Prime Video adaptation of Dead Ringers preserves all of that. But showrunner Alice Birch, who created this TV version, changes it, too, by giving its female characters all the power.



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Other segments from the episode on April 19, 2023

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 19, 2023: Interview with John Kander and Fred Ebb; Review of Dead Ringers



This is FRESH AIR. This Friday, Prime Video presents all six episodes of a new dramatic reworking of "Dead Ringers," the 1988 David Cronenberg film. That movie starred Jeremy Irons in two roles as twin gynecologists with an intense emotional connection to one another. The TV series pulls a gender reversal, casting Rachel Weisz in the same dual roles. Our TV critic David Bianculli says this approach explores the female perspective in many more ways than just the casting and ends up being both bold and breathtaking as a result. Here's his review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: David Cronenberg's movie "Dead Ringers," like the book on which it was based, was all about birth, death, love and power, but mostly from the male point of view. Jeremy Irons played twin gynecologists, an impulsive and sometimes predatory doctor named Elliot, and a more reserved doctor named Beverly. Elliot enjoyed using his position of authority to seduce some of his infertility patients and even some of Beverly's by pretending to be his twin brother.

This new six-episode Prime Video adaptation of "Dead Ringers" preserves all of that. But showrunner Alice Birch, who created this TV version, changes it, too, by giving its female characters all the power. Birch's credits include "Normal People," "Lady Macbeth" and Season 2 of "Succession." And here, she's assembled a writers' room populated entirely by women. The result is like a polar opposite of "A Handmaid's Tale."

Women are in positions of power, both as doctors and as wealthy medical donors and aggressively pursue both their ambitions and their passions. For this new "Dead Ringers," the Mantle twins, Beverly and Elliot, are played by Rachel Weisz, who was so brilliant opposite Olivia Colman in the period movie "The Favourite." She's brilliant here, too, opposite herself. Her Beverly wears her hair in a tight bun, while Elliot wears her hair down and flowing. But viewers can also tell the twins apart by everything from posture to vocal tone.

It's a masterful acting achievement, up there with such multiple-role showcases as Tatiana Maslany in "Orphan Black" and Toni Collette in the "United States Of Tara." As Elliot, she's in her office counseling a married couple when the pregnant wife excuses herself to use the bathroom. The amoral Elliot takes the opportunity to focus on the husband and play with him like a toy, flattering him, seducing him, then humiliating him all in the space of one quick bathroom break. Chad Doreck plays the husband, Max.


RACHEL WEISZ: (As Elliot) How are you doing, Max? How are you feeling about impending fatherhood?

CHAD DORECK: (As Max) Sure (laughter). I mean, yeah, it's a lot.

WEISZ: (As Elliot) Yeah. You're right. People forget to ask the daddies. And it's important for you to express how you're feeling.

DORECK: (As Max) Yeah. I just...

WEISZ: (As Elliot) Is there anything you'd like to show me? Anything at all you think I'd like to see? Because I can think of one thing that I would love to see. And I'd say you've got about 30 seconds to show me. Can you do that for me?

DORECK: (As Max) Is it this?

WEISZ: (As Elliot) Yes.

DORECK: (As Max) Oh, my God. It's this?

WEISZ: (As Elliot) Yes.

DORECK: (As Max) This is what you...

WEISZ: (As Elliot) Want very much. Yeah.


WEISZ: (As Elliot) Oh, I thank you so much, Max. It's actually a huge disappointment.

DORECK: (As Max, laughter).

BIANCULLI: Twin sister Beverly is a lot more reserved, so much so that when she has the chance to examine Genevieve, an imposingly attractive actress played by Britne Oldford, she runs to Elliot for help. Elliot understands that her sister has a crush on the actress, so Elliot offers to take Beverly's place in the exam room and not only deliver to Genevieve the bad news about her latest medical results but, as Beverly, to begin to flirt with her.


BRITNE OLDFORD: (As Genevieve) Can I go?

WEISZ: (As Elliot) This is not the final conversation. There is a lot that we can do.

OLDFORD: (As Genevieve) No. I mean, thank you, but no. I think I'd like to take a second before moving on to the what do we do now bit.

WEISZ: (As Elliot) OK. Shall we make a follow-up?

OLDFORD: (As Genevieve) Sure. Is that bar any good? The one on the corner?

WEISZ: (As Elliot) No, awful.

OLDFORD: (As Genevieve) Awful is good. Awful is perfect.

WEISZ: (As Elliot) You really do have options. There's a lot that we can do.

OLDFORD: (As Genevieve) Yeah, I just - I don't want to talk about that right now. I want to get wrecked and feel sad about how deformed and infertile I am.

WEISZ: (As Elliot) You're not infertile.

OLDFORD: (As Genevieve) Just deformed.

WEISZ: (As Elliot) Not what I said.

OLDFORD: (As Genevieve) Sure. No. Right. Great. Thanks. Well, thank you, Dr. Mantle.

WEISZ: (As Elliot) Sure. Maybe I'll come find you in a bit, help you get wrecked.

OLDFORD: (As Genevieve) That would be wildly inappropriate.

WEISZ: (As Elliot) Yeah.

BIANCULLI: This relationship turns into a very twisted love triangle. And at the same time, there's a more professional seduction going on. The twins are courted by a pair of super-wealthy investors, a big pharma billionaire and her trophy wife, who are interested in funding the twins' research and birthing facilities. Their discussions allow "Dead Ringers" to dive deeply and very heatedly into such issues as abortion, medical experimentation and the very definition of human life.

One twin sister wants to push the envelope scientifically and, sometimes, questionably. The other wants to make the delivery of babies as natural and comfortable a procedure as possible. The twins begin to clash professionally, personally, romantically. And their reality begins to blur. Director Sean Durkin and others make the visuals as intense as the psychological rivalry - lots of mirrors and blood and more and more surprises the longer the drama builds. Michael McKean from "Better Call Saul" has a small but sinister role but doesn't show up until Episode 5. And Brittany Bradford, in a single scene as a ghostly apparition, shows up even later and, like so much of this new "Dead Ringers," will haunt you in ways you won't soon forget.

GROSS: David Bianculli is a professor of television studies at Rowan University. He reviewed the new series "Dead Ringers." All six episodes will stream on Prime Video this Friday. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll talk about the AR-15, the semi-automatic rifle that's been used in many of the mass shootings over the past decade. The original automatic rifle version, the M-16, was designed for war and used in combat in Vietnam. A Washington Post series investigates the marketing strategies that transformed it into a mass market weapon and a symbol of gun culture. My guest will be one of the series' reporters, Todd Frankel. I hope you'll join us.


GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOWARD SHORE'S "MAIN TITLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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