April 14, 2024

THE STAIRCASE (2022) – 20 years later, the question remains: Was justice served?


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

True crime stories seem to be the trend for television mini series these days. The stamp of being ”based on a true story” always makes the material more compelling. HBO Max’s latest venture into this territory is this 8 episodes mini series The Staircase which is based on the documentary series which was made following the long trial of the alleged murderer. The accused In this case, is struggling novelist Michael Peterson who found his wife dead lying in a pool of blood at the bottom of their house’s staircase one evening in December 2001. What makes the case unusual was that the injury sustained by his wife was excessive. One might even say, too excessive to be caused by a mere fall down the staircase. Hence, the reason why the death was classified as a murder and with Michael Peterson as the only suspect.

The story spans over many years from the night of the unfortunate incident until present day. It is told through multiple timelines and offers various versions of what might have taken place to have cause the death of Michael’s wife. It is based on an extensive documentary that was made by a team of French documentarians who followed the case from its initial stages but admittedly tells the story mainly from the perspective of Michael Peterson himself.

Michael Peterson is a complex person with a complex background. He has married more than once, was present in another similar death of a person by the staircase, proven to be a liar (regarding his Vietnam war awards) and a closet bi-sexual. His has a huge and loyal extended family of children from previous marriages as well as those with his present wife.

With a relatively dense and heavy material, the story could have easily gone south by being boring and slow. However, thankfully the series is very well written and directed mostly by Antonio Campos. It also has a strong cast headed by Colin Firth as Michael and Toni Collette as his wife. They both gave performances which projects characters that feel real. They are supported by a bunch of familiar as well as unfamiliar faces, including the excellent and rarely seen French actress Juliette Binoche. The rest of the cast all gave their own respective characters depth and uniqueness which all lends to some really great scenes and dialogue.

I have to admit that I was hooked to the series because of the unusual circumstances of the death, the strong performances, and how the series’ narration managed to rope me in. The key driving factor here is how did things turn out at the end and an answer to what actually happened. Unfortunately the ending may leave some unsatisfied because of its ambiguity. It leaves the main question unanswered but offers some bias to favour a possible theory over what happened. I understand the real Michael Peterson is appalled by this series even without viewing it, and having only seen the trailer to the series! Well, I guess he is probably the only person alive who can truly tell us what actually happened the night his wife died at the foot of the staircase.

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