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The Power review: Toni Collette and the teenagers smashing the patriarchy

This rip-roaring adaptation of the Naomi Alderman novel asks, ‘What if Margaret Atwood’s Handmaids got superpowers?’

‘She cuppeth the lightning in her hand. She commandeth it to strike.’

This electrifying line, found in the opening pages of British author Naomi Alderman’s magnificent utopian/dystopian novel The Power (it depends on your perspective), is an immaculate example of economic excellence. There’s a world of mischief contained within this creative spark.

The Power is purportedly written by a man, Neil Adam Armon, who has delivered a draft of his fictional novel-within-the-novel to Naomi (presumably Alderman, our actual author) to read. The quote paraphrases a line in the biblical Book of Job, with God benched in favour of She.

Credited to the Book of Eve, this suggests the feminist force of the lost gospel of Mary Magdalene. It’s a sky-cracked-open bolt of dangerous ideas, opening a rip-roaring novel that asks what would happen if teenage women the world over suddenly developed the ability to harness lightning bolts against the many-pronged violence of the patriarchy just as they reach the rocky road of puberty?

It was only a matter of time before such a spectacular premise summoned forth a screen adaptation, with playwright and Jessica Jones scribe Raelle Tucker summing forth the thunder as showrunner of Prime Video’s attempt.

Assembling an all-woman team of international writers and directors, including Alderman herself on screenplay duties, and Australian filmmaker Shannon Murphy (Babyteeth), the show also taps prolific Australian export Toni Colette to star as Margot Cleary-Lopez. An ambitious mayor of Seattle mayor fed up with being undermined by The Good Wife actor Josh Charles’ gross governor, and who is married to the supportive but occasionally hectoring Rob (John Leguizamo).

How she navigates the chaos caused by the mass-electro awakening to forward her career is intriguing, particularly because her rebellious daughter Jos (Auli’i Cravalho, who lent her vocal talents to the lead role in Moana) experiences microwave-melting moments of this mysterious power.

Brilliantly bolshy

As fun as their family fracas is, the daughter drama is way more intriguing across the Atlantic thanks to the show-stealing performance of Spanish-born, England-raised actor Ria Zmitrowicz. She plays brilliantly bolshy bundle of trouble Roxy, the illegitimate daughter of Eddie Marsan’s ferocious gangster Bernie.

Early on, we witness this working-class Londoner getting obnoxiously drunk at her ‘legitimate’ sister’s wedding. It’s pretty clear she can keep her brothers ­– most notably Sam Buchanan’s kind Terry – ­­in step even before her fingers start to arclight up. Where her story goes is easily the most compelling aspect of the show. When she uses the electricity to demand a bouncer not only let her into a club, but also grin, her sneering, ‘You look nice when you smile,’ is spot on.

Auli’i Cravalho in The Power. Image: Prime Video.

We’re probably supposed to be most intrigued by newcomer Halle Bush’s Alabama-based foster kid Allie, the most complex protagonist who escapes an abusive adoptive family, rocks up at a convent and proceeds to found an Eve-like cult following, with echoes of Lottie’s goddess complex over on Yellowjackets. But the decision to import her book-born inner monologue as an increasingly irksome narration by American Horror Story’s Adina Porter hamstrings these sequences.

In the first half of the series, Croatian star Zrinka Cvitesic (London Spy) is under-utilised in a crammed cast, but shows promise as former gymnast Tatiana, the long-suffering wife of a slimy Eastern European dictator.

Male window

Likeable Ted Lasso star Toheeb Jimoh is our main window into the male perspective on this rapidly forming matriarchal force sweeping governments, dictatorships, religions and school rules aside. As Tunde, a Nigerian photojournalist, he’s generally a decent guy. Still, he totally steals the power outbreak story from a colleague (Heather Agyepong) whom he’s kinda stringing along while being a bit of a playboy.

When he posts a video of an attack online, he’s suddenly a big deal, scooped up by CNN, and she’s left behind as globe-hopping awaits. Tunde witnesses first-hand how this revelation shakes up the Middle East, where some of the show’s most spectacular scenes play out on the streets of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia (in reality, Canada stands in for everywhere). The echoes of the Iranian protests following the murder of Masha Amini are apparent, lending a great deal of heft to this subplot.

Moving parts

There are A LOT of moving parts at play in The Power, as we witness varying responses to this global sweep and new characters are added to the book’s narrative, but the story demands an epic scope, and Tucker steers us along ably.

While the opening episodes haven’t, as yet, addressed how these shifting dynamics might affect trans or intersex people, I’m reliably informed that will come in the second half of the season. For now, everything is in play. With great power comes great responsibility, and of course the terrible threat that humanity is destined to be shit regardless of gender. Collette, a stalwart, helps anchor this juggernaut, with Mr Selfridge alumna Zmitrowicz punching above her weight.

Anyone who has read Alderman’s novel knows that big things await in this awakening new world order, and I, for one, am excited to watch the sparks fly.

The Power is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.