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The Undoing

****
2020

‘…while The Undoing offers plenty of glamour and glitz, there’s a fierce moral about the place of women in today’s society that’s well worth exhuming…’

Don’t say who did it ! Those keen to avoid spoilers may skip paragraphs 3 and 4 only, and that’s how it’s got to be when discussing a long, tense court-room thriller. So let’s start with the take-away; The Undoing is 337 minutes of delicious tension, delivered by director Suzanne Bier on the same kind of narrative sixpence she managed with another huge production, The Night Manager. As with that prestige project, Bier has a great hand to play; big stars (Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant, Donald Sutherland, Edgar Ramirez), fresh NYC locations, and a twisty-turny script based on the hit novel You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz. Ally McBeal’s David E Kelly takes on the adaptation duties, and pretty much all aspects of the package are grade A, including relevance, but we’ll get to all that later…

Psychiatrist Grace Fraser (Nicole Kidman) should have known that something was about to be undone in her life. Her husband Jonathan (Grant) is a popular and successful paediatrician, and their son goes to Reardons, a posho NYC school. At a fund-raising event, Grace has an off-kilter moment with Elena Alves (Matilda De Angelis), a young mother whose son is being treated by Jonathan. But when Elena is found beaten to death, the finger of suspicion seems to only point to one possible culprit, for a while at least…

Right, get the pets and kids out of the room, the adults are talking now, so SPOILERS abound. Sure, this is a courtroom drama in the style of Jagged Edge, with procedural hairpins that are a lot of fun, particularly with this cast. But the punchline has merit; like Grace, we anticipate that there must be something going on other than the obvious truth, and so we’re willing to consider that Jonathan is covering up for his son, or that Grace’s father (Sutherland) seems to have more knowledge of a corrupt world that he needs. We note that the other mothers from the school seem unnaturally judgemental, or that copper Mendoza seems to be skipping obvious bits of evidence. And what about Grace’s patients? The genius of this story, and why it’s worth anyone’s time, is that none of these elements are genuine red-herrings; they’re just all Grace has to cling to as things fall apart. And when Mendoza produces camera footage of Grace herself at the crime scene, in episode three, all bets really are off…

Murder on the Orient Express is the archetypal who-dunnit in that all the characters have motive, opportunity and agency; it could be any of them, and as it turns out, it’s all of them. Willingness to kill to survive is not a rare commodity, Christie suggests, but something that bubbles up in the best of us. In The Undoing, the stable elements described cannot stay stable for long. We want a mystery, but we don’t want the solution to threaten our world-view, and that’s what makes Grace’s journey so compelling. It helps that everything looks so good; both Kidman and Grant have quite remarkable coats that boggle the eye, as do her wigs, although none of these elements are actually suspects. Grant in particular plays ingeniously on his still-not-quite-faded notoriety, with great results here, and while The Undoing offers plenty of glamour and glitz, there’s a fierce moral about the fragile place of women in today’s society that’s well worth exhuming. We may idolise the idea of a perfect existence, but reality has a way of undoing the best of our intentions…

10p for the first episode on Amazon Prime right now, as long as you know that, as Aimee Mann said, it’s not going to stop…less than £10 (UK) for the whole season isn’t bad as these things go either. Top link is for streaming, bottom for the UK DVD at £20.

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  1. I watched this month’s ago, so memory a bit fuzzy, and did some fast forwarding–feeling this would have been better as 4 part mini… I also took a stab at guessing who instead should have told story as Kidman/psychologist voice didn’t work for me. I realize it had to be her to elicit the grand irony of her writing a book RE using ones intuition…Perhaps Grant as unreliable narrator, or the dearly departed as ghost returned to extract justice/vengeance?
    This was compared to Big Little Lies, however, I think Gossip Girl is more to the point.
    I liked your comment RE ‘fragile place of women in today’s society’… particularly since this movie was about the privileged 1% and despite her alleged smarts and daddy’s $, she suffers, and Grant doesn’t appear all that sorry. I would also have given it a Mothman bridge collapses ending…

    • I have this fantastic Richard Gere in A Mothifficer and a Gentleman joke that I’m so keen to use, but can’t quite find the angle.

      I thought the kKdman voice was red herring number one; red hair, little girl, bloodstained curtains for the credits, and I felt that’s one of the main flirtations here. And yes, that’s what I was getting at, Kidman’s character is either a facilitator, or an accomplice, but whatever she does, the whole thing is coming apart and it’s not realy her fault…my feeling is that we and her have to hit every rung of disbelief as we go through, and that’s what justifies the length. But I do get why some viewers were hoping for a final twist rather than grim acceptance…

    • Yes, you did, you missed lots of good stuff. How did you enjoy paras 1 and 2? Some storis should be discussed in their entirity, so we start with the sizzle, then we get to the gristle.

      • Para 2 ended on a cliffhanger of an ellipsis. Wasn’t sure if I really wanted more though. Seemed the author had already said everything he had to say.

            • Report the whole song if you feel so inclined…

              Hopes may rise on the Grasmere
              But honey pie, you’re not safe here
              So you run down to the safety of the town
              But there’s panic on the streets of Carlisle
              Dublin, Dundee, Humberside
              I wonder to myself
              Burn down the disco
              Hang the blessed DJ
              Because the music that they constantly play
              It says nothing to me about my life
              Hang the blessed DJ
              Because the music they constantly play
              On the Leeds side-streets that you slip down
              Provincial towns you jog ’round

  2. I was worried when you stated how long it was, but then when I realized it was a min-series, that time made sense.

    If it ever ends up on Prime I may watch it as background accompaniment to whatever else I’m doing but Grant has never appealed that much to me so I don’t see myself ever seeking this out.

    • If you just want courtroom shenanigans, then the finale falls flat. But if you want serious drama, it’s an ending that justifies all the complexity leading up to it imho.

        • I get that some people would have liked to see Hugh Grant smash a motorcycle through the courtroom window and unmask the killer before she/he/they can tie Kidman to the railway tracks, but this isn’t a 60 minute morality play, it’s a six episode tv drama, and the end justifies the means…

  3. Ooh a series! I quite like the sound of this, I enjoyed Apple TV’s Jacobs Ladder which has elements the same as this so I’ll give it a go when it’s time for a new series. Is it just one season?

  4. I watched abd enjiyed it, but although I doubted once or twice, I guessed the culprit from the start. No spoilers, but if you’ve seen The Gentlemen, you’ll know what I mean:)

    • It’s like you’re in a plane that’s heading for a crash. You explore all the other options, but it can only end one way…

  5. This always sounded terrific and I regret to say I have still not watched it but intend to do so at some point. Grant is doing good work since he got ride of the floppy hair and the what-me approach.

    • He’s been great in everything for years, and really has a big part to play here. Wish there were films for grown ups like this…not since Jagged Edge!

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