(Netflix – 6 parts) (2020)
We know that bad things are about to happen when a miniseries begins with an attractive couple (Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant as Grace and Jonathon Fraser) engaging in happy banter and in-jokes with their child (Noah Jupe as Henry Fraser) over a busy breakfast. Their New York apartment is Bohemian and chic, their clothes are Bohemian and chic, Jonathon is a paediatric oncologist, Grace is a marriage therapist for sleek couples and Henry goes to a ludicrously expensive private school which values diversity. You can see the trouble brewing from here, can’t you?
HBO is usually better than this. Grace Fraser is without doubt the world’s dumbest psychiatrist (although she is oddly referred to as a psychologist during a criminal trial). No half-wit who had spent their life alone in a remote cave could miss the mental issues by which someone close to her is beset, and which are displayed with carpet-chewing fervour in the final scene.
The acting is fine, although Noah Jupe is miscast as Henry, he’s too old for his role and, being a hobbit-type, could never be the biological child of Grant and Kidman. Donald Sutherland appears periodically as a sort of Chorus, expressing his loathing for Jonathon (“He’s like me!”). Matilda de Angelis is also miscast, putting in an odd turn as a plump, miserable, irritating femme fatale; looming at every turn. Her appeal is a mystery.
Someone is not where they are supposed to be, someone else is where they are not supposed to be, a third person gets their face bashed in and everyone is a suspect – no surprises there in this sort of by-the-numbers ‘psychological thriller’ (or should that be ‘psychiatric thriller’).
If you do watch this (perhaps for the lovely grey-blue faded beauty of Upper East New York, the John Carpenter-like music or Grace Fraser’s fitted bodice, full skirt brocade coats) skip the tedious opening titles. A red-haired girl wafts about, playing with bubbles while Nicole warbles, “Dweam a Little Dweam of Me”. It goes on for hours.
There’s a trial – of course. It’s risible. The defence lawyer (who seems to run a murder trial on her own) is more of an investigator and New-Age counsellor than an attorney. At one point, remarking that the case against her client is “circumstantial” (in reality there is no case), she says, “we need to offer-up another suspect”. It’s more like a popularity contest powered by Facebook than a trial. [Noma Dumezweni’s performance as the attorney is smart money to win an Emmy, which tells you all you need to know about the Emmys – Ed.]
The revelation at the end was unexpected but that’s because it defies all the laws of physics, chemistry, psychiatry and screenwriting.