Staircase miniseries review: A family-ripping murder


The staircase The miniseries, created by Antonio Campos and Maggie Cohn, is a riveting crime drama based on the true-crime documentary series of the same name directed by French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade (portrayed in the series by Vincent Vermignon).

On December 9, 2001, Kathleen Peterson (Toni Colette) was found dead at the bottom of the main staircase of her home in Durham, North Carolina. Police, prosecutors, and some members of Kathleen’s family believe her husband, charismatic novelist Michael Peterson (Colin Firth), bludgeoned her to death. Most of Michael’s family members band together to support him. A French film crew documents Michael’s journey through the American justice system. Will the filmmakers be too sucked into the novelist’s orbit to produce an unbiased documentary series?

Crime drama makers bring Kathleen to the center of her murder through flashbacks. Firth shows off his true mastery as an actor while inhabiting Michael Peterson while The staircase grappling with the complexities of a blended American family and the justice system. The miniseries is worth watching for true crime buffs, even if they haven’t seen a single episode of the docu-series.

Humanizing the Kathleen Peterson

The one on the stairs The creative team humanizes Kathleen by revealing her personality through flashbacks. Several sequences make it clear that Kathleen loves her three daughters, Caitlin Atwar (Olivia DeJonge), Margaret Ratliff (Sophie Turner) and Martha Ratliff (Odessa Young). She is truly devoted to both her biological and adopted daughters. Michael and Kathleen’s marriage contains cracks, but they still have fun together. The miniseries shows Kathleen’s stressful but accomplished professional life. The executive works hard to balance her domestic duties and her high-level work, which leaves her completely exhausted.

Kathleen’s actions prove that she is a deeply empathetic and generous spirit. The immediate aftermath of her death reveals how much she was loved by everyone from her stepson Todd Peterson (Patrick Schwarzenegger) to her sister Candance Hunt Zamperini (Rosemarie DeWitt). Even family members and friends who side with Michael mourn Kathleen’s death. There are times when Michael seems devastated by her passing.

No one can pretend that a loved human being is not dead. Crime dramas based on true murders should honor the victims, which The Staircase does successfully. Casting Toni Collette as Kathleen guaranteed an award-winning performance.

Colin Firth in Michael Peterson

All the actors of The staircase bring their characters to life in a really emotionally powerful way, but Firth steals every scene. The famous British actor has one of the trickiest roles as most audiences have witnessed ten episodes of docuseries centering on the charming Michael, who has a distinctive voice. Firth invokes Michael’s unique accent without sounding like a caricature of the novelist. The actor naturally uses some of Michael’s gestures without seeming forced. Firth’s genuine charisma allows him to inhabit the charming public persona of Michael.

But Firth can also capture Michael when his mask falls off. He can quickly go from a nice family man to an authoritarian father. He also brings a sense of vulnerability to the role. Michael can’t quite fit into the box of either the protagonist or the antagonist of this miniseries. The novelist is somewhere in the middle, neither the hero nor the villain of the story.


The Peterson-Ratliff-Atwater clan seems like the perfect modern American family in many ways. These two parents managed to merge their children to form a new family. “911? contains footage showing the family having dinner together. Michael notes that even though their family isn’t perfect, they “still stick together”. It feels like it’s the Peterson-Ratliff-Atwater clan against the world. No one shares internal conflicts outside of the immediate family.

They are all extremely close to each other and have even established traditions. Kathleen and Michael share sage advice with their adult children, who celebrate their whole family. Several family members toast Martha, starting her freshman year at college. The three girls are established to be very close. After Kathleen’s death, Margaret, Caitlin and Martha sleep in the same bed. Biological siblings Todd and Clayton Peterson (Dane DeHaan) stay strong for their little sisters.

Although quickly, the series shows fractures in their happy family facade. Flashbacks reveal that Kathleen and Clayton don’t enjoy each other’s company because of the young man’s past legal troubles. Caitlin struggles to deal with the holes in her stepfather’s story about Kathleen’s death. Michael adopted Margaret and Martha when they were toddlers, so they feel a sense of loyalty to him that hinders their bond with the suspicious Caitlin.

Kathleen and Michael’s relationship seems toxic because of her secrets and financial support for the whole family. Michael’s irrational temper hinders his ability to bond closely with all of his children. Once the miniseries digs below the surface, it’s clear that Michael Peterson’s cruel and secretive behavior has poisoned this blended family.

A troubling justice system

The staircase The miniseries also does not portray representatives of the justice system as angels. Prosecutors Freda Black (Parker Poser) and David Rudolf (Michael Stuhlbarg) hate Michael even before he murders his wife. The miniseries’ flashforwards imply that some of their expert witnesses didn’t do everything right. David and Freda rely on flawed evidence to make their case, not digging too deep as they decided he was guilty before any investigation. Prosecutors use gruesome footage to manipulate Kathleen’s biological family into turning against Michael before they have all the facts. Neither Michael nor the prosecutors are described as the “white hats” of the story.

Final Thoughts on The Staircase Miniseries

This review is based on the first five episodes of The staircase miniseries. True crime fans will love this engaging limited series that explores all aspects of the documentary series, including turning the camera on the French documentary crew.

On May 5, watch the first, second and third episodes of The staircase on HBO MAX. If you haven’t seen the docu-series with the same title, maybe check out all ten episodes on Netflix before the fictional story airs! Those who like mystery might want to consider waiting to watch the documentary series until later.

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