‘The Staircase’

Michael Peterson, a once relatively successful crime novelist, is accused of killing his wife Kathleen. Found dead at the bottom of the staircase, Peterson maintains it was an accident. Based on true events, The Staircase is a eight part non-linear miniseries that tells, through interweaving the past and futures around her death in December 2001, a version of the fascinating but tragic story.

As portrayed by Colin Firth, an immensely unlikeable Michael Peterson makes a desperate 911 call from his North Carolina home. The distraught novelist has found wife Kathleen (Toni Collette) at the bottom of the stairs, unconscious but apparently still alive. She is pronounced dead by the medics on the scene. The nature of her injuries, however, are suspicious enough for Peterson to be eventually charged with her murder.

So begins a convoluted family drama (past and present) and murder investigation. The Petersons themselves have five adult children but none are theirs together. Michael has two sons, Todd and Clayton; Kathleen a daughter, Caitlin; plus Margaret and Martha, two sisters Michael and his ex-wife Patty (Trini Alvarado) adopted. It’s a surprisingly close knit unit with the exception of the black sheep Clayton (Dane DeHaan). But rifts quickly appear as the case against Peterson is built – Caitlin (Olivia DeJonge) quickly sides with Kathleen’s sisters in the belief her mother’s death was no accident. Revelations of the manner of the death of the mother of Margaret (Sophie Turner) and Martha (Odessa Young) 20 years earlier add to the intrigue.

The Staircase, over its eight long episodes, is a commitment. Peterson’s arrogance is ultimately wearing, his lies about aspects of his life questionable. But throughout, the question of murder or accident is left hanging. A French documentary team takes an interest in the story and, with Peterson’s approval, become involved in the day-to-day of events. It becomes yet another layer of complication.

The Staircase ultimately does not provide the answer to the question it raises. It presents the legal outcomes (appropriately complex), the relationship that developed between Peterson and documentary film editor Sophie Broussard (Juliette Binoche), the family divides that still exist to this day – but in its interpretation of the scaffolded facts, The Staircase creates an engrossing exploration. But it also takes too long to get there – unnecessary longeurs of tedium and inert dramatic intent, repetition resulting in viewing exhaustion. The result was a relief when the eight episodes finally ended.

Rating: 63%

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