Page to Screen: Big Little Lies – Episode One: Somebody’s Dead
Lianne Moriarty’s book Big Little Lies has been turned into a seven-episode limited series that premieres on HBO this Sunday, February 19th. It was adapted for the screen by David E. Kelley, who is probably best known as the creator of Ally McBeal. (You can read my review of the book here.) I was lucky enough to be invited to an advance screening of the first episode which was very exciting because I LOVED the book.
Big Little Lies opens with a murder. Not only don’t we know whodunit, we don’t know even know who was murdered – or why. First we have to get to know the moms of the first graders at a swanky public school in Monterey. (Yes, the setting has been moved from Australia to California but that didn’t really make a difference.) Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), mom to Chloe is a gregarious, bubbly woman who is also mom to sullen teen Abigail. Celeste (Nicole Kidman), mom to twins Max and Josh, is married to Perry (Alexander Skarsgård), a younger man who seems like the perfect father. She’s best friends with Madeline. Renata is a working mom seems to think she’s better than everyone else. Jane (Shaliene Woodley) is a young single mom to Ziggy and new to the area, making her an outsider.
Madeline quickly takes Jane under her wing. When Ziggy is accused of bullying Renata’s daughter Amabella, all of the moms at the school quickly choose up sides, leaving Madeline and Celeste the only ones in Jane’s corner.
Just like the book, snippets of police interviews with supporting characters about the murder are interspersed throughout the episode. They are darkly humorous and quite entertaining. I was hoping that they would keep them in because they were one of my favorite parts of the book.
The casting in this movie is spot-on. Reese Witherspoon is perfect as Madeline. She’s what I imagine her character in Legally Blonde would be like after she grew up and had children. In the book, Celeste is supposed to be almost otherworldly beautiful and Nicole Kidman certainly fits the bill as far as that goes. As the series goes on, her superior acting skills will definitely be utilized. I was a little concerned when I heard Shaliene Woodley was cast as Jane because I had only seen her play teenagers up to that point. I didn’t know if she would have the maturity to play a young mother. I needn’t have worried – she is up to the task, portraying Jane as a single mom with a mysterious past who loves her son with fierce emotion. And Alexander Skarsgård is as hot as ever. He could stand in the corner playing a potted plant for all I care, as long as I got to look at him.
I’m quite happy with how the first episode followed the book. I didn’t know if HBO would be able to get seven episodes out of one book. At the same time, the layered intricacies essential to building the inherent suspense of Big Little Lies would be difficult to condense into a two-hour movie. After viewing the pacing of the first episode, I don’t think there will be any problem stretching the story over seven episodes. The extra time will allow the characters to fully develop as they were in the book and make the suspense that much more tantalizing.
Even after watching just one episode, I’m confident that the HBO version of Big Little Lies will be at least as good as the book, maybe even better!