The Staircase (2022) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Review by Andrea Carnevali
Tells the story of Michael Peterson, a crime novelist accused of killing his wife Kathleen after she is found dead at the bottom of a staircase in their home, and the 16-year judicial battle that followed. TV miniseries available to watch on Sky and Now TV.
Back in 2004 the murder case against Michael Peterson, who claimed he had found his wife Kathleen dead at the bottom of the stairs at home covered in blood and called the police in a state of shock, not only enthralled true crime fans, but also resulted in a fascinating, very detailed and rather gripping documentary series.
The original eight episodes were followed up by two more episodes in 2013 when the case was reopen and three more episodes, commissioned by Netflix, in 2018.
Four years later HBO has made a miniseries based on that documentary.
I have to be honest (as I always am), I was very sceptical about this dramatisation, especially because I had seen the original docu-series and I knew pretty much all the details and how the whole thing was going to pan out.
Cleverly, the series understands that the resolution of the case is not the only point. The Staircase is mostly a series about the texture of the case (just like its source material), all it’s forensic details and crazy twists, but also all the people embroiled in it: Michael’s family.
Harrison Ford had been in talks to star but was eventually replaced by Colin Firth who plays Michael to perfection: likeable at one moment, arrogant just a moment later. Always restrained and inscrutable, making it very hard for us to work out whether he’s guilty or not.
The rest of the cast is equally strong, with names like Toni Colette (as Kathleen), Michael Stuhlbarg, Dane DeHaan, Patrick Schwarzenegger (Yes, Arnold’s son) and Juliette Binoche.
But the great novelty in this series, and in my view what really makes it special and positions it as the perfect compendium to the docu-series, is how it actually interweaves the characters of the film-makers from the actual documentary itself within the story.
What the documentary didn’t talk about was the fact that amazingly the editor (played by the wonderful Juliette Binoche) ended up falling in love with Michael and eventually had a relationship with him (no spoiler here, the series actually starts with that!). All of which explains the slightly biased nature of the original documentary.
It’s an original and interesting take on the story, which makes it fresh and different from the documentary, hence allows you to enjoy it even if you’re familiar with the details of the already known story.
I wish it could have gone a bit further into exploring the nature of biased documentaries, but the elements are still there if you are willing to read through the lines.
Less successful though are the constant time jumps within several different timelines, which I found a bit confusing and more often than not felt too arbitrary and rather random, as opposed to dictated by any real dramatic arc.
However, all the production values of the series are top notch (it’s handsomely filmed and directed) and I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would… In fact it made me want to re-watch the original documentary too.
All the eight episodes (1 hour each) are available on Sky or Now TV.
Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick
The Staircase is available to watch on Sky and Now TV.
See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali
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