I have been hearing about Big Little Lies for ages and with a cast that includes some of the best actresses in the business at the moment, I could not resist delving in when the full first season got added back onto to Now TV.
Big Little Lies is set in the affluent neighbourhood of Montery, California, where a mysterious death has recently occurred. It’s a place where appearance is everything and the school gates are where the competition for who is “top dog” is most hotly fought. On the first day of the first grade battle lines are drawn when Renata Klein’s (Laura Dern) daughter accuses, newbie Jane Chapman’s (Shailene Woodley) son of choking her.
Jane has recently befriended, Madeline MacKenzie (Reese Witherspoon), who along with her best friend, Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman) are at the top of the perfection pyramid. Or are they? Because who really knows what goes on behind closed doors?
As the unnamed victim’s untimely death is investigated the many interlinked relationships, dark secrets and burning resentments are exposed to delicious dramatic effect.
I am not going to talk too much about what is actually revealed throughout the series, because the less you know the more enjoyable, shocking and exciting the reveals are. Every character in the show is hiding something and the depth of their desperation to keep their veneer of respectability showing knows almost no bounds.
With themes of domestic violence, marital relationships, PTSD, parenting, the mechanics of sexual attraction, female friendships and unfulfilled personal ambitions at play there is a lot going on but it is so skilfully handled that it never feels overwhelming or confusing. The pacing is spot on and the setting adds to the juxtaposed feelings of claustrophobia and perfection.
The performances are outstanding. Witherspoon was made to play the feisty, highly strung, in your face Madeline. Kidman excels as the icy. fragile Celeste and Woodley captures Jane’s precipitous edginess. Dern’s character is somewhat loathsome but she manages to inject humanity into her as well as an understanding of why she feels at war with the other mothers. The core players are rounded out by Zoe Kravtiz, who plays Madeline’s polar opposite and second wife to her ex, Nathan (James Tupper).
I particularly enjoyed (if that’s the right word) the relationship between Celeste and her husband, Perry (Alexander Skarsgaard). It was so complex and passionate yet toxic and disturbing and wrong. Skarsgaard has become really good at playing complicated bastards and this role lets him shine.
Choosing to explore the outward impressions of the “Monterey Five” through interviews with the local residents is genius and helps to really cement the fakeness of so many of the interactions between everyone in the town.
I absolutely loved the first season of Big Little Lies and I cannot wait to plough into the next one.