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Build up to the Manhattan murder mystery is mind blowing

A statuesque Nicole Kidman frontlines the undoing that seamlessly oscillates between emotional family drama and suspenseful psychological thriller

Priyanka Roy  Published 23.11.20, 12:57 AM
Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant in The Undoing, now streaming on Disney + Hotstar

Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant in The Undoing, now streaming on Disney + Hotstar Sourced by the correspondent

A seemingly perfect, well-heeled family tumbles into free fall faster than one can spell U-N-R-A-V-E-L in The Undoing. The HBO series, currently streaming on Disney + Hotstar, is a compelling look at lies — big and little — that gnaw away at the core of relationships, making us realise that we perhaps really don’t know the people who are said to be the closest to us. Four episodes are out, with the penultimate episode dropping today.

The Undoing is very similar — almost functioning as a companion piece, in both spirit and setting — to Big Little Lies. For one, it has Nicole Kidman, like that show, watching her marriage fall apart. The only difference being that Grace Fraser’s (Kidman) husband Jonathan (Hugh Grant), a twinkle in his eye on an otherwise furrowed face and his trademark British wit intact, isn’t the perverse, abusive partner that her Celeste had to weather in Big Little Lies.


Like that HBO series penned by David E. Kelley — who also does writing duties on The Undoing — much of the action is hinged on the elite private school of Reardon (it’s New York here, it was Monterey there) — that Grace and Jonathan’s son Henry (Noah Jupe) attends. And like Big Little Lies, there’s a murder at the centre of The Undoing that sees it oscillating seamlessly between emotional family drama and suspenseful psychological thriller.

Though the action in The Undoing takes place in the impeccably manicured environs of upscale Manhattan with the wealthy (and white) drowning their sorrows in flutes of Dom Perignon and talking about their David Hockneys without batting an eyelid, the universality of the predicament that Grace finds herself in hits home and keeps you invested. Celeste’s emotionally wrought therapy sessions are somewhat overturned here with Grace being a therapist herself. Jonathan is a successful pediatric oncologist, and like all influential mothers are wont to be, Grace is a member of the parent committee at son Henry’s school. That her wealthy father Franklin Reinhardt (Donald Sutherland) is one of the school’s biggest benefactors is another reason. The show takes us through the lives of the rich and famous, complete with top-end charity auctions, ornate mansions, giggly gossip and fake air kissing. The viewer is given a vicarious gallery seat into this world of privilege. It’s enjoyable for the most part.

In the first few episodes, what we get to see is a family that’s perfect. And then suddenly it’s not. A grisly murder takes place within the circle, coinciding with Jonathan going missing. Grace soon stumbles on her husband’s parallel life, discovering new things about the man she’s built a home with. That the show is based on Jean Hanff Korelitz’s 2014 novel called You Should Have Known is telling. Grace’s life unravels, even as you in the audience stay on the edge of your seat trying to piece it all together.

To be honest, the writing in The Undoing isn’t brilliant or inventive and the episodes often meander, but like all good thriller television, every episode ends with a reveal, with the needle of suspicion soon pointing to more people than Jonathan, including Grace. Directing the show is Susanne Bier, the maker behind highly watchable fare like The Night Manager (for which she snagged an Emmy) and the 2018 post-apocalyptic horror Bird Box.

Even as it keeps one guessing, The Undoing serves as a social commentary, asking stinging questions about fidelity and marriage and examining the insularity of extreme wealth. That the setting is New York also contributes to its fabric. This is the city that never sleeps — a character early on very pointedly remarks, “It’s a crime here not to be frantically busy” — and there’s hardly been a more pleasing sight on recent television than Nicole Kidman, with a golden head of curls, parading the streets of the city in a collection of envy-inducing trench coats. I am leaning towards the wine-coloured one.

It’s Kidman who stands tall, both literally and figuratively, in the show. Grace’s waxen demeanour hardly betrays the whirlpool soaring within her, and the actor brings the right degree of emotionality and empathy to the part. Hugh Grant looks a tad worse for wear, but he does well in keeping Jonathan consistently ambiguous. Plus, what’s not to like about that charming wit that made him the mainstay of many a classic rom com for decades? A word for Noah Jupe, playing Henry, who lends maturity to a tricky part, and Donald Sutherland who plays Franklin Reinhardt in, well, the most Donald Sutherland way.

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