***Minor spoilers ahead!***
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!