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Why I’ve already given up on Big Little Lies

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Big Little Lies is a new HBO series based on the Australian book by Liane Moriarty. But of course, as with most adaptations, it’s been Americanised, automatically bringing many changes and taking away most of the story's original charm.

Jane (Shailene Woodley) moves to a new town and becomes friends with the beautiful but damaged Celeste (Nicole Kidman, who is, ironically, Australian) and high-maintenance Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), who bond due to having children of the same age, attending the same kindergarten. It’s made clear in the first episode that someone has been murdered, but we have to keep watching to find out who it is.

With Shailene Woodley, Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon cast in the leading roles, it seemed like this crime drama would be a huge success. It’s surprising, then, that none of these three well-known and experienced actresses managed to bring any personality to their characters; they all seem extremely forced, with no chemistry between their characters at all. 

Once the premise of ‘murder’ has been set up in the pilot - and constantly reminded to us every few seconds with interrogation snippets - it’s hard to keep our concentration on anything else. While the interweaving of the police interrogation and main narrative works well to build suspense in the book, the format doesn’t really translate on screen.

After 20 minutes into the first episode, I already wanted to give up. I found myself continuously thinking, ‘is this actually going anywhere?’. After attempting to give it the benefit of the doubt for a few more episodes, the answer became a firm ‘no’.

There is hardly any action in the story until the climax, which again works better in a book than onscreen, which has more pressure to provide ongoing excitement (which they attempt through painstakingly long dialogues, shots of the ocean, and violent sex scenes).

Once you realise that they’re trying to make an entire seven-hour series out of one stand-alone novel, it becomes clearer why it’s failing. While the series has so far been loyal to the book, the story on screen is very slow, dragging out every tedious detail. It wasn’t long before I stopped caring.

So, if you want a good story with authentic characterisation, read the book. Or even better, listen to the audiobook - read brilliantly by Caroline Lee, who has more character in her voice than all of those on the TV series put together. Plus, she has a beautiful Australian accent to enjoy.

Big Little Lies broadcasts in the UK on Sky Atlantic.

 




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