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

Rachel Weisz plays twin gynecologists Elliot and Beverly in the Amazon Prime series <em>Dead Ringers.</em>
Niko Tavernise
/
Prime Video
Rachel Weisz plays twin gynecologists Elliot and Beverly in the Amazon Prime series Dead Ringers.

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. 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 Macbethand Season 2 of Succession. Here she's assembled a writer's 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.

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.

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.

Directors 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 Saulhas a small but sinister role, but doesn't show up until episode five. 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.

Copyright 2023 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.