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The Undoing’s uncomfortable question: do we really know the people we love?

The mini series, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant, combines a murder mystery with a close examination of marriage

Written by Shubhra Gupta | Updated: November 29, 2020 9:12:36 am
Nicole Kidman, The UndoingBehind closed doors: Nicole Kidman (left) in The Undoing

If you, like me, have been devouring The Undoing, the HBO series streaming on Disney+ Hotstar, then this is tenterhooks time. The big reveal is right around the corner: who killed the girl in the studio, the husband, the lover, or someone else?

The six-part series, based on Jean Hanff Korelitz’s 2014 novel You Should Have Known, is a racy thriller. And in the deft hands of writer and executive producer David E Kelley and director Susanne Bier, it becomes more than a whodunit: the portraits of people it draws, peeling off layers one after another, shows us that there’s no telling with humans. Even if we’ve loved and lived with each other for years, do we really know someone?

Grace (Nicole Kidman, with a co-producing credit) is a skilled therapist who operates in her tight little wedge of old Manhattan money, hobnobbing with other diamond-dripping mums at the ultra-snobby school her son attends, when not counselling griping couples. Her cosy life turns upside down after a fundraiser evening held in a tony brownstone, accompanied by handsome oncologist husband Jonathan (Hugh Grant), who rapidly becomes the prime suspect in the brutal murder.

Murder mysteries follow certain tropes. The more innocent you appear in the beginning, the more you will be of interest to investigating agencies. Cops show up, demanding answers to questions Grace has never had to face in her seemingly perfect marriage: is her missing husband really at an out-of-town medical conference? Did he know the victim, a sensuous young woman well aware of her wares? Just how well did he know her?

The irony of a professional, who has so successfully helped mend rocky relationships that she got a best-selling book out of it, being oblivious to the gaps in her own marriage, is not lost on us. Kidman, with her flaming Medusa-like tresses, wearing long colourful trench coats which make her stand out from the other pale-cashmere-clad women that she knows, keeps us riveted. With each passing day, she is discovering ugly new facts: it’s not just her husband who has kept his secrets; her beloved art-aficionado billionaire father (Donald Sutherland, excellent) spilling the beans on his own fractured life, is another low blow. Will she be able to survive the circus-like trial, and loud courtroom shenanigans?

During the endless TV chatter this kind of celebrity crime leads to a character says, “No one wants to punish the wealthy”. That statement could also be true for the good-looking. Grant, best known for his self-effacing, self-consciously gorgeous self in such frothy romcoms as Four Weddings And A Funeral (1994) and Notting Hill (1999), is a counter-intuitively good choice for a man who may be a vicious murderer. His face, older and more lined than we’ve seen in a while, reflects his character well: he knows he is a charm magnet, and charmers get away with everything, don’t they?

The partnership of Kidman and Kelley has resulted in highly addictive dramas (a certain frantic air about Grace will remind you of her vulnerable-yet-strong character in the 2017 HBO series Big Little Lies, also written by Kelley, and co-produced by Kidman) with good production values, and starry actors. The biggest star is the writing, of course: the sixth and final episode lands tomorrow, and we will know everything. Or will we?

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