“The Staircase” – On the Slippery Steps of Truth [Review]

The Staircase series


Title: “The Staircase” (TV Series)

Release Date: 2022

Cast: Colin Firth, Toni Colette, Juliette Binoche and others



HBO’s fact-based series “The Staircase” is like climbing the steep steps of truth, because, as it turns out, truth can sometimes be gradual. Silences and understatements, although they are not lies per se, can completely change the optics of events. The story of the well-known American writer Michael Peterson, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his wife, is dissected in the series. A thrilling court trial, marital secrets and family drama – all this can be found in “The Staircase” performed by such excellent actors as Colin Firth, Toni Collette and Juliette Binoche.

The series “The Staircase” – under the surface of the ideal

It’s a late December evening in 2001. A distraught Michael Peterson calls the emergency number, asking for immediate help for his wife, who has just fallen down the stairs and shows no signs of life. A rescue team immediately arrives on the scene, but unfortunately it turns out that the woman has died. Soon in the house of the well-known writer appears his adult son, and then more children. Due to the woman’s unusual injuries, the police decide to secure traces of the accident, and the prosecutor launches an investigation. Soon Michael Peterson is charged with the murder of his spouse.

These are the basic facts that we see in the series from an increasingly different perspective. In the course of the ongoing trial, we get a closer look at Peterson’s entire family. After all, together with his wife he raised five children, including a daughter from a previous marriage Kathleen and two adopted girls. The plot of the series “The Staircase” moves unhurriedly, allowing us to learn about the problems of each of the siblings and their relationships with each other. At first we get the impression that the Petersons are an almost perfect, loving and supportive family. Over time, however, more secrets and cracks begin to come to light, and the perfect picture is slowly eroded.

The Staircase series review

This family vivisection is brilliantly highlighted by the series’ opening credits, in which we see a three-dimensional model of the huge Peterson mansion, with all the members of the family inside. The characters seem to be captured in individual frames like mock-ups used for detective analysis; almost every gesture they make seems to have a hidden meaning. We observe both the characters themselves and their multiplied mirror images, and in the background there is the title staircase, carrying some multi-faceted symbolism.

“The Staircase” – Where does the truth lie?

Various theories clash in the ongoing investigation, and the opinions of various experts seem to contradict each other. Meanwhile, Peterson’s finances are melting down, and disagreements are beginning to arise in the initially harmonious family. As it turns out, the defendant himself, as a spouse, has more than one thing on his conscience, but does this prove his guilt in a prosecution of such serious stature? Interestingly, the long, high-profile trial echoes around the world and attracts the attention of filmmakers from France, who decide to make a documentary about Peterson. The European crew includes Sophie Brunet (played by Juliette Binoche). The journalist gets very personally involved in the case and decides to explain what happened at all costs.

The series “The Staircase” certainly requires a lot of attention from the viewer, as much is played out on the level of nuances, glances and understatements. The narrative alternately sweeps us between sympathy for the protagonist and a real dislike for this character. Seemingly a successful man, a sensitive writer, a good husband and an ideal father can also have a second face. It is just as well to see in him an exploiter of his wife’s hard work, a dishonest man overly attached to luxury. The truth is revealed gradually, and as we approach it, we have the feeling that we are moving up the title staircase. What looks obvious from below, on the next step, seen from a different perspective appears completely different.

The Staircase 2022 review

“The Staircase” – series with a great cast

“The Staircase” series has its shortcomings. In my opinion, it is a bit too long and can be tiresome at times. I get the impression that it sometimes lacks a distinct drama, some undercurrent that would hijack the entire narrative and allow it to develop freely. Perhaps the reason for this state of affairs is that we are dealing with a storyline based on facts, and this obliges the creators to be more careful and avoid even the appearance of manipulation. Ultimately, however, the series stands out from other productions. We are dealing with a really interesting, original scenario, and until the end we do not know what the finale will be, this seemingly familiar story from the press.

The greatest asset of “The Staircase”, in my opinion, are the outstanding actors. Colin Firth, who replaced Harrison Ford, who was initially typecast for the role, comes off really convincingly. I think the big factor is his truly British appearance, extremely consistent with the image of a sensitive intellectual. I had an excellent time watching Toni Collette in the role of Peterson’s wife. She is a beautiful, mature actress who combines feminine charm, strength and determination. Surprisingly, I was less convinced by Juliette Binoche, but I think this is the fault of the specific role she was given. In the end, however, I would consider the series a successful and interesting production, and above all, one that makes you reflect on the indecipherable human nature.