Monday 15 April 2024

Ripley - Netflix TV review

Do we really need another screen version of The Talented Mr Ripley? I have mixed views. Part of me thinks that it would be good for less well-known books to be given an airing on TV. Part of me recognises the commercial realities. Just as TV companies (and screenwriters) go for the easy option of recycling endless Agatha Christie stories because of the strength of the brand, so Patricia Highsmith is notable enough to draw viewers who might not give a less renowned author the time of day. And Tom Ripley is undoubtedly one of the great characters of twentieth century crime fiction. Anyway, for better or worse, Netflix have produced Ripley, an eight-part version of Highsmith's story, and I decided to take a look.

I was startled to realise that the entire show is shot in black and white. I wondered about that, I must admit. I was, however, reassured by the fact that the screenplay was written by Stephen Zaillian, a very accomplished writer who won an Oscar for Schindler's List; he has the ability to entertain while making serious points that keep you on your toes, and that isn't as easy as he makes it look. 

Andrew Scott, cast as Ripley, was an extremely interesting choice of lead actor. Scott is older than I imagine Ripley to be, and I feared that might affect his portrayal of the sociopathic charmer. I also worried that stretching the story out into eight episodes would mean that it became boring in places. This is the recurrent failing of modern television - there's too much padding, for purely commercial reasons, and it affects the quality of shows that might otherwise have worked really well.

So my reservations were numerous, but there was enough about the show to attract my attention, and I must say I was soon hooked. Even the slow pacing worked - to my surprise! There's something mesmeric and haunting about this adaptation of Highsmith's story. I liked the film version and the BBC radio version, but this take on the tale is, in my opinion, possibly even better. One or two of the changes to the story don't work too well, but most of them do. Scott is very good indeed and the visual quality of the whole series is stunning. Zaillian deserves a lot of credit, I think, and I'm very glad I set my doubts aside. Ripley is excellent television.


Liz Gilbey said...

Interestingly, this adaptation has been more than a bit marmite: people, including reviewers, either love it or hate it. I loved it, found the intentional slow pacing refreshing and mesmerising, presented by the writer and director as a challenge to audiences to learn (again, or for the first time) how to to follow a story and concentrate. A bit brave.
Andrew Scott is one of the finest actors working today. Most people will know him as Sherlock's Moriarty, or Fleabag's Hot Priest.
In movie All Of Us Strangers, and on stage playing all eight roles in a slimmed down version of Vanya, his ability, subtlety and low key charisma are unique. It says a great deal for the irrelevance and cronyism of the Oscars and BAFTA these days that he was overlooked for major awards for AOUS - which is a life changing and life enhancing film everyone should see and cry over - and that he did not win an Olivier for his utterly absorbing turn in Vanya.
Ironic he lost the Olivier to Mark Gatiss (Mycroft to his Moriarty)I saw both shows, and much as I love Gatiss, his performance as Gielgud in The Motive And The Cue came nowhere near Scott's.
Fortunately Andrew Scott seems to be very much an adult so is untouched by being overlooked yet again.I recommend anyone to catch up on some of his mesmerising performances, often in small independent monologues, on YouTube.

Martin Edwards said...

Very thoughtful comments as always, Liz. Greatly appreciated.

Christina Koning said...

I very much enjoyed this moody, black-and-white version of the Highsmith novel -- it seemed closer to the book in that Ripley is shown to be a psychopath from the beginning, instead of (as in the no less visually beautiful Minghella film) becoming drawn into deception and murder seemingly by accident. The character of Dickie Greenleaf, as portrayed by Johnny Flynn, comes across as much more sympathetic than Jude Law's entitled bully, who (arguably) provokes Tom Ripley into violence. I thought both versions offered classy takes on the story, but felt Andrew Scott's cold and calculating interpretation of the character reflected more accurately the icy coldness of Highsmith's creation.

Martin Edwards said...

Good points, Christina, thank you.

RJS said...

I'm not sure why Andrew Scott deserves the honour of being the finest actor working today.
He was in that ghastly film Denial which parodied the now ailing historian David Irving. Scott played establishment solicitor Anthony Julius.
I think the cast all deserved Golden Raspberries.
Beautiful Rachel Weisz played boring plain neurotic Deborah Lipstadt.
Timothy Spall caricatured David Irving as a frothing looney.
David Hare should have stuck closer to the trial transcripts.
The film suffered from 'pilgerism.', a Private Eye term for excessive left wing bias.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi RJS - I haven't heard of that film. I take it that you'd advise avoiding it....