In Review

The Staircase: Colin Firth ‘steals the show’ in this HBO Max drama

Dramatisation of hit true-crime series is ‘cold and shaking and surreal and grim’

If you’re a Netflix subscriber and you like true crime, you’ve probably seen The Staircase, said Anita Singh in The Daily Telegraph – the documentary series made by two French filmmakers that was a huge hit in 2018.

It told the story of Michael Peterson, a novelist who dialled 911 one night in 2001 to report that his wife Kathleen had fallen down the stairs in their home in North Carolina. He insisted that it was an accident, but the sight that greeted police on their arrival suggested foul play: there was blood everywhere, and Kathleen had sustained “shocking” head injuries.

Now, HBO Max has turned the Netflix show into an eight-part drama starring Colin Firth as Peterson and Toni Collette as his wife. It’s compelling for the same reason the documentary was compelling: you really want to find out the truth about what happened that night.

Although Collette is well-cast here, it’s Firth who “steals the show”, said Rachel Cooke in The New Statesman. He captures Peterson perfectly: “his cheery coercion of those close to him; his hoary, overworked, cracker-barrel indignation”. Yet the series still feels “superfluous: a last gasp for an already quite worn out story”.

Well, I was “transfixed”, said Hugo Rifkind in The Times. Yes, there are too many flashbacks, but watching Peterson’s character unravel is gripping. “No matter how often we have seen a post-tragedy dynamic in a drama, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one quite like this. Never melodramatic, it is cold and shaking and surreal and grim.”

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