Nicole Kidman and David E. Kelley proved to be a dynamic duo in the past with Big Little Lies, but their efforts on the HBO miniseries were undeniably bolstered by the talents of a remarkable director. Enlisting filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée for the job was just one of many excellent decisions on the show’s part, given that he is an expert at drawing out emotionality in his work. Big Little Lies may be a heightened portrait of the inner frailties of apparently perfect rich white women, but it is filled with emotional potency, retaining the authenticity of past Vallée projects. He regularly directs resonant works, making the most impossible premises have meaning.
The same can be said for Susanne Bier, the Danish director whose affecting work has earned her an Academy Award, an Emmy, and a Golden Globe, among other prestigious accolades. She is most well-known for such projects as Brothers, Things We Lost in the Fire, and In a Better World (the latter was the movie that nabbed the Oscar). When Bier is at her best, she is capable of weaving tightly-knotted dramas that stylishly compel. To now hear that she is teaming up with Kidman and Kelley on their next delicious serial adventure is exhilarating.
According to Deadline, Bier, who only recently cut her teeth on TV with her award-winning AMC series The Night Manager, will direct and executive produce The Undoing for HBO. The project was previously announced in March with Kidman set to fill the lead role. Meanwhile, Kelley will take up writing and showrunning duties on the series, which will be an adaptation of Jean Hanff Korelitz’s mystery thriller You Should Have Known.
The Undoing‘s source material is a thrilling ride that unravels seemingly flawless upper-crust lives into a series of nightmarish revelations. The story centers on Grace Sachs (Kidman), a therapist living in the Upper East Side of New York with her sweet oncologist husband and their precocious son Henry. Grace lives comfortably as she juggles home life, successfully keeps up her therapy practice, and even prepares to publish her very first book. However, a vicious murder rocks her world just as she begins early rounds of press for her impending authorial debut. Moreover, Grace’s husband mysteriously vanishes — leaving behind a trail of suspicions and awful realizations — and she is left questioning her own memories and choices while attempting to rebuild a life for herself and Henry.
At its core, You Should Have Known examines a deeply flawed woman and her journey toward coming to terms with cracks in the veneer of her cozy, protected upper-middle-class bubble. A notable characteristic of Grace’s is she prides herself for her privileges. In fact, she actually presents as a wholly frustrating protagonist due to her tendency to flaunt this in an overbearing way. She also stands on a soapbox preaching judgment at those she perceives as “willfully” unsuccessful; the book that she pens is filled with admonishments of women who lack intuition to read the warning signs of a toxic relationship. To call Grace agreeable would be a stretch.
Yet, in the same way that shallow excesses and dark undercurrents simultaneously bubble at the heart of Big Little Lies, leading us to sobering revelations about its characters, You Should Have Known tests our patience for hopeful insight. The title of the novel is in itself the name of Grace’s advice book within the text. It is clearly inflammatory and accusatory from the get-go. But when the tables turn and that sentiment is then aimed at our protagonist, this stark phrase allows us to witness every excruciating moment of long-overdue self-awareness. I wouldn’t say Grace ends up being wholly likable at the end, but we’re easily invested in what happens to her along the way regardless.
After she showcased a knack for adapting John le Carré for the small screen with The Night Manager, I have faith in Bier to work that same magic with Korelitz’s book. She stitched together a suspenseful yet heartful six-hour film with The Night Manager, adding subtle depth to the noir tropes that populate this ostensibly generic spy thriller. Bier’s gift with actors has always been recognizable in her film work, and she consistently draws unexpectedly energized performances from the miniseries’ stars, Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie. Bier perfectly treks through spaces of moral greyness in this modernized le Carré translation. That skill will undoubtedly come in handy for The Undoing once it gets to the nitty-gritty of the iniquities and revelations of the narrative. Bier’s stylish directorial sensibilities prove valuable to this neverending era of prestige TV that we’re in and we can trust that a hit is on our hands.