Big Little Lies

A sleek, stylish adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s novel of the same name, Big Little Lies isn’t perfect but when it’s good, it’s damn good.

Set in the glitz and glamour of Monterey, Big Little Lies chronicles the seemingly perfect lives of three mothers who, piece by piece, are revealed to have been involved in a murder.

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild) and written by David E. Kelley, this limited series from HBO, delivered on these shores by Sky Atlantic, demands your attention from the off with its stellar cast. Indeed, with the likes of Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley and Zoe Kravitz on board, you’d suspect that Big Little Lies has something about it.

What you discover is an enthralling, near perfectly paced, sharply scripted series that expertly picks apart the picture perfect lives of its characters. It intertwines its extremely engaging plotlines in a way that feels balanced, rather than bloated, and caps things off with a blend of gorgeous cinematic visuals and an excellent soundtrack.

The opening moments of its first episode hook you right from the off with a myriad of distorted, intriguing visuals as a pair of detectives arrive at a pre-school – the scene of the murder.

From there, the lead-up to that day obviously dominates proceedings but Big Little Lies isn’t afraid to bounce around. We’re given the past in intriguing slithers that whet the appetite, while the future delivers a series of police interviews with parents who give their version of events, allowing the suspicions to shift from character to character.

It’s a fairly innocuous start to proceedings, Woodley’s Jane arrives in Monterrey. A newcomer to the area, she’s a single mother and befriends the brilliant Witherspoon’s Madeline on the first day of school. Jane’s son, Ziggy, is involved in a fight on his first day at school, accused of bullying Amabella, daughter of Dern’s Renata and from there, things steadily begin to unravel.

You can already get the picture as to how the lives overlap, and we’ve not even mentioned Kidman or Kravitz yet.

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It’s Woodley, Witherspoon and Kidman who are our main three – starring as Jane, Madeline and Celeste respectively. Beginning with Woodley, as one of my favourite actresses – having discovered her through Divergent (I loved the book series, okay?!) – she was probably my hook into this, and she delivers. She embodies Jane with all the likeability she can muster, tackling some difficult storylines with aplomb and sharing some heartwarming chemistry with the terrific Iain Armitage as her son, Ziggy.

She’s fantastic and more importantly believable as a young mum struggling with the accusations thrown at her son and the scars of her past that run deep. Woodley brings her all to one-third of the trio that make this show as good as it is.

It’s Kidman and Witherspoon, however, who steal the show. Kidman is marvellous as Celeste, stuck in what’s eventually revealed to be a fairly troubling relationship. Be warned, there are some increasingly uncomfortable, abusive sex scenes that follow between Celeste and husband Perry, played by Alexander Skarsgård, but credit to the show for not shying away from it.

It digs right into the issues and is necessarily unapologetic in its presentation of something increasingly horrific. Kidman takes it all in her stride. She’s a titan as she conquers what’s undoubtedly a difficult role, fully showing all the talents she has at her disposal – whether it’s Celeste’s tenacity, her growing fear or her stubborn, though undoubtedly believable, that she’s to blame too.

As for Witherspoon, she’s a treat as Madeline – she’s a bundle of charisma, energy and venom portraying a juggernaut of a character, who is superbly unravelled as the series progresses.

We could be here all night but outside of the central three, across the board the cast delivers. Laura Dern gives it everything as Renata, who’s a maverick, marmite character you’ll either love or loathe, while Zoe Kravitz is also great as Bonnie, now married to Madeline’s ex, Nathan.

That brings us onto the husbands. Aside from Skarsgård, who nails a pretty twisted character, we have the likes of Adam Scott (Mr. Madeline), James Tupper (Mr. Bonnie) and Jeffrey Nordling (Mr. Renata) on board who all bring their A-game. The children are also well worth a mention as they’re all terrific.

Throughout, it’s just a cast that works. It fits. And it allows the show to flourish.

This is a classy, stylish, rich, engaging drama with a superb cast, smashing script and a stellar seven episodes. It is well worth your time.

Over the course of its seven episodes, Big Little Lies rarely lets your attention drop. It’s so well paced, juggling the drama of its different characters’ lives and threading through the mystery with a smart narrative style, delicious cinematic visuals, ramping up all the while, until it delivers a hugely satisfying ending – something not a whole lot of shows can often do.

This is a classy, stylish, rich, engaging drama with a superb cast, smashing script and a stellar seven episodes. It is well worth your time.

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