“Separation can be a terrifying thing.”
It was one of the movie quotes that cuts deep in David Cronenberg’s 1988 psychological-thriller masterpiece of Dead Ringers. The film featured one of Jeremy Irons’ finest performances to date as identical twins, Beverly and Elliot Mantle. That same quote can be heard in Prime Video’s six-part limited series, which I was initially sceptical about the idea of Dead Ringers remake in the first place. Not to mention the decision of swapping the genders that are originally meant to be played by men made me feel as if the series existed for the sake of riding the progressive trend.
Fortunately, the limited series gets off to a promising start in the first episode as Sean Durkin (he also helmed the second and co-directed alongside Lauren Wolkstein in the sixth episodes) of 2011’s Martha Marcy May Marlene and 2020’s The Nest fame firmly established Beverly and Elliot Mantle’s distinct personalities. The former is shy and reserved while the latter is the complete opposite — outgoing, wild and amorous. Playing dual roles is challenging but Rachel Weisz does a tremendous job as Beverly and Elliot Mantle. She’s a firecracker and equally great at displaying varied emotions throughout the six episodes. It was easily one of Weisz’s best performances ranked alongside The Constant Gardener, The Whistleblower and Disobedience.
Like David Cronenberg’s 1988 film, the basis of the storyline remains the same as we follow the lives of the Mantle twins who are both well-known in their medical field. Except for some notable differences such as Weisz’s identical-twin appearance distinguishing herself by having two different looks, where Beverly has her hair neatly tied to the back while Elliot lets her hair down in a more relaxed way. The Mantles are also OB-GYN (obstetricians and gynaecologists) as opposed to Jeremy Irons’ dual characters working as gynaecologists.
And yet, they are like yin and yang and inseparable until one day, Beverly met one of the patients — an actress named Genevieve (Britne Oldford, whose role was previously played by Geneviève Bujold in the big-screen version but with a different character name under Claire Niveau) and falls in love with her. It was a result that doesn’t sits well with Elliot, who figures their relationship is just a fling rather than a long-term commitment.
Dead Ringers also focus on other characters, namely Jennifer Ehle’s solid supporting turn as Rebecca, who plays a wealthy investor funding the Mantles’ private clinical facility specialising in experimental embryo technology. Their primary mission is to change the system related to childbirth.
However, not all additional characters work well in the series. This is especially true with the introduction of Greta (Poppy Liu), who is in charge of housekeeping in the Mantles’ home and prepping the meals. Her subsequent hidden agenda in the series feels more like a filler rather than something worth integrating into the story. The series even contains a lot of profanities and I mean a lot. I have nothing against swearing in the series or movies. But the predominant use of expletives in Dead Ringers made me feel as if the showrunner — Alice Birch of TV’s Normal People and Conversations with Friends — wants to up the game of how profane a series can get.
Despite its shortcomings, it doesn’t deter me from enjoying the overall quality of this series. Weisz’s multi-layered dual performance is the main reason that made me glued to the screen as I manage to binge all six episodes in one sitting. The identical but psychologically different twin portrayals of Beverly and Elliot Mantle allow the series to delve deeper into the red flags of a codependent relationship in the subsequent episodes. This can be seen in Elliot Mantle, who loves to assert dominance over her patients that she chooses to seduce and even her more introverted twin sister, Beverly.
But the fact she gradually loses control over Beverly as the latter becomes more psychologically independent in differentiating her personal relationship between Elliot and her lover, Genevieve. The ultimate litmus test showcasing the Mantles’ increasingly dysfunctional and estranged relationship resulted in some of the best moments in the later episodes.
I’m glad the series doesn’t try to emulate David Cronenberg’s signature clinical directorial style to make it look like it’s a carbon copy of the 1988 film. It does, however, feature some of Cronenberg’s visual motifs with a subtle mix of psychological drama and dark comedy (the latter is particularly evident in the second episode). The series doesn’t abandon the body-horror elements that defined Cronenberg’s 1988 genre classic in the first place and so do a few graphic scenes (the childbirth sequence comes to mind) in some episodes.
Dead Ringers will premiere all six episodes on Prime Video on April 21.