In an era when Hollywood stars are no longer seen as slums when they appear on television, modern audiences have become accustomed to seeing big names appear for limited series on premium networks. HBO has particularly excelled in this area with shows like Real detective, big little lies and Sharp objects commanding the cultural conversation as their star-friend Oscars delve into the world of mystery and murder. When you hear Kate Winselt has taken the same path with her new project Easttown mare by Brad Ingelsby and director Craig Zobel (The hunt), you could put it aside like any other in a long series of “murder shows” that you end up moving around. It would be a huge mistake; Easttown mare isn’t just a deeply gripping murder investigative tale that leaves you enthralled from episode to episode (it does), but it’s also a compelling drama about a family and community struggling with grief and how it permeates everyone in different ways. Whatever aspect you are interested in, Easttown mare will leave you with the conclusion that this is one of the best shows of the year.
Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) was born and raised in Easttown, PA and it shows. As the heroism of her high school basketball days all but faded, she made her mark in a different way as a sleuth. Being a small town, everyone knows everyone’s business, and the mare we meet in the first episode is the one with a lot of dirty laundry to keep people busy. This divorced Irish woman lives in a house just behind her ex-husband’s (David Denman, Office) and his new fiancÃ©e. It is here that she is raising her grandson Andrew with her teenage daughter Siobhan (Angourie Rice, Spider-Man: Far From Home) and his crested mother Helen (Jean Smart, Watchmen). It hasn’t been long since Mare’s son and Andrew’s father died, and Andrew’s mother is too addicted to drugs to care for him now. Mare keeps the trauma of her son’s death buried at the expense of herself and her family, but she’s a powder keg just begging to be unleashed. Despite being stubborn and cautious, Mare has enough charm to be an endearing figure, but for reasons beyond her control, she is set to become an outcast among her people.
The town of Easttown was already on edge due to an unsolved missing persons case that many viewed as a failure of Mare in particular, and at the end of the first episode another young girl is found dead, this which plunges the city into a frenzy. Throughout the seven episodes of this story, you will find yourself in a heated internal debate as you get to know the various suspects and the dark secrets they hide. There is an added layer of tension provided by the fact that Mare essentially grew up with everyone in this tight-knit community. Detective Colin Zabel (Evan Peters, WandaVision), a hot county sleuth who brings an air of inexperience with him but praises his name. The dynamic between Grumpy Mare and energetic young Colin is one of the highlights of the series. The mystery itself takes very dark but thematically satisfying turns. Perhaps more surprising is the amount of humor this series injects from its deep school of characters. It’s a show that doesn’t leave you in an unyielding pit of darkness.
Kate Winslet is a performer known to be among the best of her generation, and she is some of her best work ever in this role. You can watch the obvious emotional ups and downs she must overcome as she simultaneously suppresses her son’s grief while focusing on solving the city’s crimes at all costs. Yet there are the subtle aspects of his performance which may prove to be the most intriguing; the Philadelphia accent she adopts may sound humorous, but it’s narrowly frightening. She disappears within Mare both physically and emotionally. There is no weak link between the cast members, and the expertly crafted script allows everyone to produce memorable scenes every episode. While many regular crime shows lose their mystique once you know all the answers, Easttown mare are one of the few breeds you can come back to over and over again without the quality soaking. It’s a series that illustrates the best that television has to offer.
Easttown mare arrives on Blu-Ray in a stunning 1080p transfer. Being a modern series, it stands to reason that the presentation should be flawless, but you can still marvel at the good job Warner Archive has done with this release. The cinematography is truly top notch, as you would expect from an HBO original. The color scheme is toned down a bit, but there are some brilliant color moments that pop out of the screen. Fine details are present in the production design and clothing. Vegetation in some places also gives the disc a chance to shine in the retail department. Skin tones appear natural all season long and there are no major digital anomalies to speak of. The series looked great when I aired it on HBO Max, but the Blu-Ray presentation has more consistent black levels and less than a mile squeeze. Warner Archive did an A + job with this presentation.
The Blu-Ray disc comes with a pretty striking DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The series is primarily dialogue-oriented, but there are also frequent thrilling sequences such as minor physical altercations that give this track a boost. There is a nice ambient activity in the rear channels, especially during sequences in the police station or in the wild during an outing in the woods. The dialogue mainly remains in the front center channels and is reproduced clearly. The track does a good job of ensuring that neither the sound effects nor the score ever dominate the dialogue. The score brings a richness to the series which fills the room on this piece. When the action kicks off there is a certain low end weight that is appreciated in a series like this. This track has a substantial dynamic range that should appeal to fans of the series.
- Invitation to the ensemble: A two-minute play in which the cast and crew set up the story, characters, and intent of the series.
- Welcome to Easttown: A three-minute play that explores the city of Easttown, the unique sensibilities and people who reside there, the filming location, production and costume design details and more.
- Easttown mare – To look closer: A three-minute featurette that takes a closer look at the character of Mare and her journey through investigation and personal tragedies. There is decent information on the most important elements to help Winslet bring this character to life.
- Manufacturing Easttown mare: A nine-minute featurette that details some of the various aspects that make this series so special, the nuances of character introduced by Winslet, the dialect, the role of trauma and laughter in the story, coming to the conclusion and more. There are spoilers for the whole series included here.
Easttown mare is a masterclass in storytelling. Whether you come to the show for a mysterious murder or a deeply touching character drama, you’ll have one of the most satisfying viewing experiences of the year. Kate Winslet is exceptional because she stands alongside a crisp ensemble that brings every character big or small to life. Warner Archive has given this series a Blu-Ray with a stunning A / V presentation and some brief special features. There aren’t enough good words to describe how really good this series really is at the end of the day. It should not be missed. Highly recommended
Mare Of Easttown: An Original Limited Series From HBO can be purchased directly through the Warner Archive Amazon Store or various other online retailers. It will be available from September 14, 2021.
Note: The images shown in this review do not reflect the picture quality of Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Warner Archive has provided one copy of this disc free of charge for review. All opinions in this review are honest feedback from the author.
Dillon is more comfortable sitting in a movie theater all day watching both big budget and independent films.