'Dead Ringers' Doesn't Resemble David Cronenberg's Original — and It's Worse for It

Created by Alice Birch

Starring Rachel Weisz, Britne Oldford, Poppy Liu, Michael Chernus, Jennifer Ehle, Emily Meade

Photo courtesy of Prime Video

BY Rachel HoPublished Apr 20, 2023

David Cronenberg's 1988 film Dead Ringers has held up incredibly well over the years. More than 30 years later, it continues to turn up on lists celebrating the horror genre and Canadian film, and Jeremy Irons's performances as gynecologist twins Beverly and Elliot Mantle remains one of his best. Adapting the film into a television series was always going to be a tall order for creator, producer and writer Alice Birch. And while Rachel Weisz turns in a phenomenal dual performance, the series gets bogged down in a convoluted plot and drawn-out dialogue.

When we first meet Beverly and Elliot, they are working in a hospital's maternity ward in New York City. Both twins exhibit a great deal of passion and care for their work, with Beverly gravitating towards working with patients and Elliot leaning into the research side, preferring the lab to a delivery room. Their ultimate goal is to open a birthing centre for women, as Beverly hopes to help as many women as possible in a more focused effort, whereas Elliot sees the centre as a place to conduct her studies unencumbered by hospital oversight. 

In theory, changing the gender the Mantle twins lends an interesting texture to the original story. Beverly's fertility issues could create a heartbreaking portrait of a woman who helps so many others create life while she herself cannot. Both of them could present interesting (and differing) views on women's healthcare that the original film wasn't able to explore. Unfortunately, any promise is squandered, as these threads are raised but only brushed upon in a rather superficial manner, leaving viewers to listen to dialogue that we could find on Twitter threads.

One of the fascinating aspects of the original Dead Ringers was the dynamic between the twins and their approach to not just work, but also their personal lives. In the series, Beverly's desire to have children and her eventual relationship with Genevieve (Britne Oldford), a former patient, creates a sharp contrast and conflict with Elliot's more free-wielding romantic nature. As Beverly and Genevieve's romance develops, Elliot becomes increasingly perturbed as she watches her sister establish a bond with someone else.

The first episode of the show does a great job at setting up how Beverly and Elliot relate to one another and the degree of their attachment. The rest of the series, though, never comes back to their relationship in a meaningful way, opting for a more superficial read than displaying any depth. A common trend throughout the show, the story goes in one too many directions to create anything of substance, and discussions about access to healthcare and relevant racial implications are raised as if to placate the audience. 

Save for the potential that a series like this could have met, the biggest shame is the misspent effort of Weisz. Just as Irons had done before her, Weisz meticulously paints each twin with a distinctive attitude and energy; her turn as Elliot, in particular, is a real joy to watch. Undoubtedly with the help of her directors and some clever editors, Weisz delivers a focused performance that sees Beverly and Elliot's relationship come alive in a vibrant way that I wish was highlighted more.

Beyond the broad premise of gynecologist twins with a possibly-too-close-for-comfort relationship, Birch does manage to separate the series from the movie enough to make the show its own entity. The downside is that viewers will naturally look to the series to recapture the horrific spirit of the film, which it doesn't remotely do.

Although it could be argued that the show is hampered by the weight of Cronenberg, even when considered in a vacuum, the series rings hollow.
(Prime Video)

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