A Time-travelling Love Story is HBO’s Latest Offering

Sherlock's Steven Moffat adapts the bestselling novel about a young couple whose romance breaks all the rules... of time and space

Sherlock’s Steven Moffat adapts the bestselling novel about a young couple whose romance breaks all the rules…  of time and space

You think your relationship has obstacles? Try involuntary time travel. Otherwise a perfect couple, the one wrinkle in the romance between Clare Abshire (The Good Fight’s Rose Leslie) and Henry DeTamble (Sanditon’s Theo James) is a genetic disorder, which makes the latter jump back and forth through his own lifetime. This means not only that Henry vanishes at the most inopportune moments, but that although he first meets Clare at the age of 28, 20-year-old Clare has, at that point, known him her entire life. 

The Time Traveler's WifeHBO CanadaBased on Audrey Niffenegger’s beloved novel from 2003, Sherlock creator and former Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat now takes on the epic love story, adapting it into a six-hour series that attempts to be more expansive than the 2009 film adaptation starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams. “The great advantage of a miniseries is that we can do the whole story,” he explains. “The movie was a quite intelligently abbreviated version, but by abbreviating it you make it, in a way, all about the time travel and not about the love story. People that love this book, I hope, will love the show because I love it too much not to remain true to its intent and its heart.” 

If it seems like Moffat has a niche, calling out his fascination with time travel is not entirely unreasonable. “Well, time travel and love, what else is there?” deadpans the screenwriter. “What is brilliant and thrilling about the interaction of time travel and a love story is that it makes the most common phenomenon of a completely happy marriage interesting again. 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. By scrambling it all up and constantly reminding you that love is inextricably linked to loss, 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 Time Traveler's WifeHBO Canada

For the actors involved, it’s also a process riddled with confusion. As if two U.K. actors putting on American accents isn’t enough of an acting challenge, James not only portrayed his character Henry through decades, but often performed opposite a younger or older version of his own character. “It was a head-f***, to put it lightly. But in a way, it was good because you made sure you kept on top of exactly where you’re going and where you’re coming from. That’s kind of the beginning and end of acting,” says James. “What we tried to do was try to shoot the younger guy first. And then, we’d go back to the older version, because it’s quite hard to switch between those on a dime. It sounds pretentious to say, but the way he walks and talks are just a little bit different with age, even if it’s the same person. You’ve got to kind of live in that person from the moment you wake up. But it was definitely a challenge.” 

What the actors, Moffat and director David Nutter also had to wrap their heads around was the relationship between Clare and Henry, as they fall in love as adults, but Henry then starts spending time with the younger version of Clare on a regular basis. Does he give Clare a chance to fall in love with anyone else? “Within that, there’s interesting questions of determinism, where you begin and where you end, and each decision they make — is it predetermined, or do they have an ability to control in which direction they go?” James muses. “That, to me, was a really interesting part, on top of the love story.” Adds Moffat: “They create each other. Henry is as much in the end groomed by Clare as the other way around. You might argue that every relationship’s a bit like that, as we try to be the person the other one is expecting or wanting.” The Time Traveler's WifeHBO Canada

Moral quandaries aside, what time travel allows is for a piece to have humour, while at the same time be dark and philosophical. It could also be the solution to finding happiness, according to Moffat. “I used to always say that the secret of life would be being nostalgic [in the moment]. Henry DeTamble has no future and past, so he is constantly nostalgic at the time. What he is constantly saying throughout the book and throughout the show is, right now is what matters because it’s the only real thing. Audrey’s brilliant idea, it’s not about time travel. It’s about love and marriage. The time travel is merely a device.” 

The Time Traveler’s Wife premieres Sunday, May 15th at 8 p.m. & 11:35 p.m. on HBO Canada