Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies Trailer

***Minor spoilers ahead!***

Rating: 5/5

Big Little Lies opens with a mystery death before flashing back and forth between police interviews in the present day to how events unfold in the past. The catalyst of the story begins when the lives of Madeline Mackenzie (played by Reese Witherspoon) and newcomer Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) collide on their morning school run. After their initial meeting, Madeline takes Jane under her wing and introduces the young mother to her friend Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman). With Laura Dern and Zoe Kravitz completing the female ensemble, this show delivers a stellar leading cast.

As the story slowly reveals what has led to the mysterious events on the fateful night, we soon realise that all is not as it seems in these women’s lives. Initially, Madeline appears to have it all, including devoted husband Ed (Adam Scott) and father to their six-year-old daughter Chloe, and her teenage daughter Abigail from a previous partner. We soon learn that Madeline struggles with having her ex-husband Nathan Carlson (James Tupper) in her life, particularly as he is now married to the much younger Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz). To make family life even more complicated, Nathan and Bonnie’s daughter Skye is Chloe’s classmate, so their lives are intrinsically linked and running into each other every day is almost inevitable.

Jane’s son Ziggy becomes another classmate of the children and the topic of Ziggy’s father is one that Jane is reluctant to discuss. As her friendship between Madeline and Celeste grows, the disturbing details regarding Ziggy’s paternity are divulged by a distressed Jane. When Ziggy is accused of bullying Renata Klein’s (Laura Dern) daughter Annabella, Jane is forced to confront her past as lines are drawn between all the parents in the drama that is school politics.

Celeste is another character who appears to have the perfect life. A stay at home mom to twins Max and Josh, she is the envy of the community with her much younger husband Perry, played by the statuesque Alexander Skarsgard. Their idyllic lifestyle is soon revealed to be a mere illusion upon the discovery that Perry physically and emotionally abuses Celeste. Skarsgard plays Perry with such charm and charisma that completely contradict his true colours, which are revealed with such devastating and destructive force. I found myself flinching every time Celeste made an off the cuff remark that I knew would lead to another brutal beating. Perry’s transformation to such a menacing and sinister character was portrayed with such realism by Skarsgard through some horrific and harrowing scenes and the issue of domestic abuse appears to be depicted with overwhelming accuracy. Despite her former career as a corporate lawyer, Celeste continues to cover up her husband’s behaviour by telling herself that they simply have a passionate and fiery relationship.

“That’s the essence of the perfect marriage, isn’t it? The ability to lie.”

The story is set to the beautiful backdrop of Monterey, California with the ocean acting as a symbol for rebirth and redemption throughout the series. A fantastic soundtrack adds to the atmosphere and tension, often playing an intricate part of the storyline. Themes of loyalty, trust and fidelity are explored during the series and issues of domestic abuse, ageism, class and feminism are addressed throughout the show. Initially, I had presumed this was going to be a show about female rivalry, but the central core of the story actually celebrates female friendships and examines the challenges that women endure every day. Gender equality still remains a source of contention in and out of the workplace and women’s role in society is one that continues to be considered in this modern world. Big Little Lies highlights the difficulties that women face with juggling having a career and a family and questions whether women can really have it all.

The rights to Liane Moriarty’s successful novel were bought by book lover Reese Witherspoon and while initially considered as a movie adaptation, it was instead optioned for a television mini series spanning seven episodes. Big Little Lies is a fantastic drama and it’s not difficult to see why Witherspoon snapped it up for production. Witherspoon herself stated that she wanted to develop interesting characters, due to a lack of diverse roles for women in Hollywood. It was a clever move to adapt the book for television rather than the big screen, as it allows for more development of such complex characters. Television certainly seems to be undergoing a renaissance recently with A-list stars fluidly dabbling in dual roles on television and film. While television has experienced a golden age for the last decade or so for drawing big names back to the small screen, often it was the case of an actor returning to television because their movie career had stalled.

It is evident that is not the case here, with Witherspoon receiving another Academy Award nomination in recent years for her role in Wild, another book that she acquired the film rights to adapt. Nicole Kidman received yet another Oscar nomination this year for her role in Lion, while Shailene Woodley is at the pinnacle of her career. After playing the lead in the Divergent franchise, her role as the troubled Jane couldn’t be more of a different departure from her previous clean-cut role. Her latest character marks a significant career move as it has allowed her to transform from teen star into a serious dramatic actress. Woodley herself is an intriguing figure that refuses to conform to Hollywood standards. She has previously backpacked through Europe and appears to live quite a nomadic off the grid existence. She is a passionate advocate and speaker for environmental issues and displays a remarkable maturity and intelligence beyond her years.

Television is often a medium that is frowned upon, yet it is merely another form of storytelling in a more accessible way as well as having the ability to reach a much bigger audience. It stands rightly beside film, theatre, music, art  and books and connects and unites people often in a way that’s quite incredible. While the rise of Netflix and catch up has altered the dynamics of television somewhat, social media has enhanced the viewing experience with running commentaries and debates taking place online during live viewings of shows. Nowadays, television can become a collective experience and the world becomes a smaller place as a result.

I am now eagerly anticipating reading the Big Little Lies novel after binge watching the series. I admit that I did guess one part of the twist early on, yet somehow I put it to the back of my mind and forgot about it. So when the final reveal took place, I still gasped in shock. Witherspoon has recently announced that discussions are taking place about the possibility of a second series. As the novel is a stand alone story, it will be interesting to see what the creators have in mind for the these characters. Often it can be difficult to replicate the success of a show’s preceding first season. Let’s hope I am proved wrong! Have you seen or read Big Little Lies? Let me know what you thought of it!

Line Of Duty – Series 4

Rating: 5/5

***Please note: This review contains Series 4 spoilers!***

My Sunday night tv viewing is now devoid of good drama, after the end of Line of Duty last week. After a triumphant finale, this series is still being talked about a week later and, after much speculation, it has been confirmed that the programme will return for two more series. The news shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, considering the BBC had moved the show from its previous slot on BBC2 to its new home on BBC1 for Series 4. Such a move is always a clear indication of how much faith the BBC has in a show’s future and proved the right decision after last Sunday’s finale drew an average of 7.46 million viewers.

What a thrilling and gripping finale it turned out to be! I was literally on the edge of my seat, whilst in between hiding behind a cushion for some of the more excruciatingly tense moments. Considering I was new to the show, I quickly became invested in the story and its characters. Normally I am quite pedantic about my tv viewing habits and prefer to watch a show from its conception. Line Of Duty has been on my Netflix watch list for quite some time now, yet by chance I found myself watching the first episode of the fourth series with family. After that opening nerve-wracking cliffhanger, how could I not carry on watching such an exhilarating series?!

As a new viewer, Line Of Duty Series 4 felt like a fresh story and while there appeared to be hints of  the anticorruption unit’s work from the previous seasons, it was easy to follow what was going on regardless. I quickly grew to love the show’s central characters and equally despise its core villain. AC-12’s Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar), DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) and DC Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) provide the moral backbone of the series and a foil to the duplicitous DCI Roz Huntley (Thandie Newton).

Initially I was surprised to hear of the addition of Hollywood star Newton to such an already well established series. However, it wasn’t difficult to comprehend the actress taking on such a role after viewing just one episode. There’s not many characters that have me screaming at the tv! DCI Roz Huntley is one of the most manipulative and devious characters I’ve witnessed on tv recently and Newton played her with such complexity that I have no doubt she will be nominated for every television award possible this year.

I was delighted when Huntley received her comeuppance in the final episode, with justice being served at last for the murder of forensic investigator Timothy Ifield. Somehow though, Huntley  evoked a sense of sympathy and redemption by confessing to her crimes, as well as displaying decent detective work by cornering her own lawyer for his involvement in the Balaclava Man mystery.

The show didn’t shy away from issues such as gender inequality and it highlighted the difficulties women still face in their careers. DCI Roz Huntley appeared to be penalised for putting her family before her career for many years and severe pressure was placed on her to solve the case that resulted in her framing of Michael Farmer. Without a doubt, Huntley had to fight her way to the top of the career ladder and a ruthless streak appears to be deemed necessary in order to get ahead in such a male dominated industry.

When Kate was passed over for promotion in favour of her colleague Steve, the implication was evident that it was because of her gender. Then there was Jobsworth Jodie, one of the most irritating characters I’ve endured on tv lately. Clearly motivated by promotion prospects, she turned a blind eye to Huntley’s suspicious behaviour and divulged confidential information at any given opportunity. However, on a more positive note, times have moved on from the chauvinistic days of the past when women in the police force were merely deemed capable of menial tasks such as making tea, as showcased in the recent ITV Prime Suspect:1973 adaptation, a prequel exploring Jane Tennison’s early days in the police force.

Police procedural dramas are always a winning formula and Line Of Duty displayed an intelligence often not seen in other shows of the same genre, particularly when dealing with forensic details. Of course certain elements are still inaccurate, but there will always be some discrepancies for the sake of dramatic tension. Strong leading characters like Hastings, Fleming and Arnott have a dynamic on-screen chemistry and provide the heart of the story. The AC-12 team looks set to have their work cut out for them in the next series as they continue to uncover the mysteries of the conspiracy ring involving the Balaclava Men. While much of the loose ends were tied up in the finale, there is still the question of who H really is and there were plenty of teasers for what lays ahead in Series 5.

The success of Line Of Duty Series 4 demonstrates the importance of quality over quantity. The BBC is known for producing fantastic dramas and much of this success can be attributed to their formula of creating short series that span a few episodes compared to the standard US prime time tv network format of a 22-24 episode arc. This style often leads to a diminishing quality in a series and results in many ‘filler’ episodes. However, American cable television has been following a similar shorter format for a number of years and it looks like many of the prime time networks are coming to the realisation that a shorter narrative arc results in a more polished and improved story. With the BBC commissioning new adaptations of Little Women and The War of the Worlds, this golden era of television shows no sign of abating and long may it continue. In the meantime, I’ll be revisiting the rest of the Line Of Duty series!

Did you watch Line Of Duty? Have you seen all the series? Do you have any good tv recommendations? Don’t hesitate to get in touch and let me know!