We’re already come to associate Nicole Kidman with juicy television. After her Emmy-winning turn as Celeste Wright on Big Little Lies, Kidman has made her television appearances an event in their own right, and she gives us another knockout performance in The Undoing, a twisty thriller that is glossy and decadently mysterious. Susanne Bier, who directed all six episodes, harkens back to the best kind of adult thriller.
Kidman stars as Grace Fraser, a respected therapist who is married to Hugh Grant’s Jonathan, a celebrated pediatric oncologist. They have the definition of a privileged New York lifestyle. The kitchen is to die for and Grace has so many long flowing coats for the autumn season that you immediately want to tour her closet. Don’t even get me started on her red, wavy hair. Obsessed. Their son, Henry (Noah Jupe, proving once again why he is in such high demand), loves playing the violin at his upper-crust school and is a big admirer of his father. It’s almost like Jonathan and Grace could pose for an article in the Times just by walking down the street.
Grace’s existence is thrown when her husband vanishes and there is a brutal murder of another mother from Henry’s school. Elena Alves (Matilda De Angelis, coming for Scarlett Johansson’s gigs) began showing up in Grace’s social circle by becoming part of a fundraising committee for the school, but she seemed to put the other members on edge simply by being mysterious and beautiful. Is something lurking in Grace’s marriage that she didn’t bother to look for? Grant can drown you in charm and that’s no different here.
The Undoing is based on Jean Hanff Korelitz’s novel but it seems that writer David E. Kelley opted for a pulpier approach. This adaptation explores that the rich will always win and white privilege will never go away (these are people that literally auction off glasses of water at benefits because it’s a hoot), especially when you are as affluent as the Frasers, but Kelley excels at writing the complicated bond between spouses. Things aren’t always black and white and Grace finds it difficult to reconcile her emotions towards her husband as the series goes on. Just that alone is a fascinating device.
Kidman makes Grace very guarded. As more details emerge and the series goes on, Kidman draws upon Grace’s intellect as a therapist to everyone around her. She is not used to being the subject of analysis. This is another great performance from Grant. He’s consistently showing us new shades as an actor–A Very English Scandal, Florence Foster Jenkins, Paddington 2–that goes against everything that made him famous in the mid-90’s. Noma Dumezweni brings a controlled coolness to her Haley Fitzgerald, a lawyer that pops up halfway through the season. Give her more roles, please and thank you. The supporting cast, which includes Lily Rabe and Donald Sutherland, is solid.
Bier gives us some huge cliffhangers with every episode, so you will be hanging on by your fingernails every week. She zooms in a lot on Kidman’s face and eyes in Grace’s most pressing, emotional moments. While some limited series go on too long or pad themselves out too much, The Undoing gives you want you want. It almost feels like a throwback: huge stars, pulpy story, and big twists.
The Undoing premieres on October 25 on HBO.