It’s our final visit to Monterey, and what began as a fairly light comedy-drama of desperate Californian housewives struggling with their partners, children and ludicrously gorgeous sea-view houses has morphed into one of the most powerful and moving dramas about domestic abuse and the search for freedom we’ve seen for many years.
When it began, our attention was grabbed by Reese Witherspoon’s foul-mouthed stay-at-home mum Madeline Martha Mackenzie, forever frustrated by bureaucracy, her ex-husband’s new wife and other mums, who became fiercely protective of new arrival Jane (Shailene Woodley) and her son. But gradually darker tones prevailed. Former lawyer Celeste (a persuasive Nicole Kidman) revealed the extent of her suffering at the hands of her controlling husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgard). Jane relived the rape that led to her pregnancy and fantasised revenge; and career woman Renata (Laura Dern) raged against the knowledge that her very success generated resentment among fellow parents at her young daughter’s school.
But as parents now convene for the Elvis Presley/Audrey Hepburn-themed Otter Bay Trivia Night, who’s going to die, and who’ll be found responsible? All will be revealed, and while there may not be as many suspects as we saw in Broadchurch, in a way, the identity of the killer has never been the main issue. We’ve been cleverly misdirected by director Jean-Marc Vallée, with his Greek chorus of Monterey residents hypothesising on whodunnit and why, and a lightly drawn police investigation. But never fear, the answers to the big questions are here, in an extremely neat piece of plotting.
And while Big Little Lies has been undoubtedly distressing – as well as the actual blows from her husband, Celeste’s scenes with her therapist have been quietly devastating – it’s also been uplifting. These women do, occasionally, acknowledge their mistakes (one exchange in this final episode between the previously hilariously combative Madeline and Renata stands out particularly) and their relationships with their children have felt very true in all their pleasures and frustrations. It has also been very funny.
Plaudits all round, and roll on the next awards season, where this is sure to figure prominently: as the show’s executive producer, Witherspoon might pick up producing gongs as well as acting ones, and if Kidman’s ignored it will be criminal. And it’s another feather in the cap for writer David E Kelley.
But will there be another series? The Australian author of the book on which this was based, Liane Moriarty, recently confirmed that HBO had approached her to develop more ideas to take the women’s lives further. “I have started to think about ways this could continue,” she told an Australian newspaper. “The producers have asked me to see if I can come up with some ideas. I wouldn’t write a new book but perhaps a new story and then we’ll see what happens.”
And much as I’d love to see how Madeline and her husband Ed get past her infidelity, how Celeste deals with her twins and whether that nice barista Tom turns Jane’s head, I’d be just as happy to leave Big Little Lies where it is. Seven episodes of perfectly produced domestic drama, with scenery and interior designs to die for and a hip soundtrack for modern times. It really can’t be bettered.
Big Little Lies concludes tonight at 9pm on Sky Atlantic