Mesmerising Andrew Scott-Starring Miniseries 'Ripley' Is a Masterful Monochrome-Hued Must-See

There's no shortage of talent in this gorgeous and thrilling eight-part adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's 1955 book.
Sarah Ward
Published on April 04, 2024

As disclosed in the very first trailer for Ripley, not one but two actors with its title role on their resume appear in this latest take on the eponymous conman. Prior to Andrew Scott (All of Us Strangers) stepping into the part here, and magnificently, John Malkovich (The New Look) did the honours in 2002 movie Ripley's Game. The latter isn't reprising his past work in Netflix's eight-episode series, which streams from Thursday, April 4. He's tasked with bringing an entirely different character to life, and firmly as a cameo at that. But his involvement late in the piece offers crucial reinforcement of a fact that's baked into this new adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's 1955 book The Talented Mr Ripley, and also into all versions: that while most folks won't attempt to level up their lives by social climbing via murder and fraud, yearning for a sunnier existence is as intrinsic for humanity as breathing.

Screen Ripley iterations keep coming, with Highsmith's five-novel series continuing to fascinate readers, audiences and filmmakers for that very reason: everyone dreams of having more than they've got. In the darkest fashion, so explores a story that's given rise to 1960 crime-thriller Purple Noon, as led by French acting icon Alain Delon; 1999's Matt Damon (Oppenheimer)-starring The Talented Mr Ripley, the definitive take until now; and Scott proving slippery as one of pop culture's most-famous swindlers. Malkovich's stint in the part was based on a different book, which shared that film's name. 1977's The American Friend with Dennis Hopper (as helmed by Perfect Days director Wim Wenders) took its cues from the same source. Barry Pepper (Bass Reeves) featured in 2005's Ripley Under Ground, hailing from yet another novel. Each adds layers to a picture of envy and opportunism that'll never stop being painted, even if no more Ripley-related fare ever reaches TV or cinemas again.

Indeed, as Netflix's miniseries follows a man of far more modest means than the friend that he's suddenly glued to, his overt coveting of a life less ordinary than his own, plus his sinister scheme to lie and kill his way to a shinier existence, another title might come to mind. It was evident in late 2023 that Saltburn owed Highsmith and Tom Ripley a debt. It will never stop being apparent. Again, such tales — about Tom or not — resound like echoes of each other because they'll always be linked to an inescapable aspect of human nature. Take note of Ripley's monochrome colour scheme: there's nothing gleaming about the ways that Tom goes about claiming his fantasies, no matter how gorgeous the scenery.

Boasting The Night Of's Steven Zaillian as its sole writer and director — joining a list of credits that includes penning Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York and The Irishman, and also winning an Oscar for Schindler's List — this jump into the Ripley realm doesn't splash around black-and-white hues as a mere stylistic preference. The setting is still coastal Italy at its most picturesque, and therefore a place that most would want to revel in visually; Anthony Minghella, The Talented Mr Ripley's director a quarter-century back, did so with an intoxicating glow. For Zaillian, however, stripping away the warm rays and beaches and hair, blue seas and skies, and tanned skin as well, ensures that all that glitters is never gold or even just golden in tone. There's never even a glint of a hint of a travelogue aesthetic, with viewers confronted with the starkness of Tom's choices and actions, the shadows that he persists in lurking in and the impossibility of ever grasping everything that he desires in full colour.

On the page and on the screen both before and now, the overarching story remains the same, though. It's the early 60s rather than the late 50s, but Tom is in New York, running fake debt-collection schemes and clinging to the edges of high-society circles, when he's made a proposal that he was never going to refuse. Herbert Greenleaf (filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan, who has also acted in his own three features You Can Count on Me, Margaret and Manchester by the Sea) enlists him to sail to Europe to reunite with a friend, the shipping magnate's son Dickie (Johnny Flynn, One Life). As a paid gig, Tom is to convince the business heir to finally return home. But Dickie has no intention of giving up his Mediterranean leisure as he lackadaisically pursues painting — and more passionately spends his time with girlfriend Marge Sherwood (Dakota Fanning, The Equalizer 3) — to join the family business.

The complications hampering Tom's job remain familiar, too. He's a grifter who isn't being truthful about being old university pals with Dickie. He wants his welcoming friend's privilege as his own, plus his Italian idyll — ravenously and determinedly so. Marge is instantly suspicious, including of whether there's an amorous angle to Tom's intentions. Soon, the entire situation turns desperate and deadly. Freddie Miles (Eliot Sumner, Pretty Red Dress), one of Dickie's acquaintances, is also far from welcoming. And when Inspector Pietro Ravini (Maurizio Lombardi, Romeo è Giulietta) starts investigating the deaths that begin to surround Tom and Dickie, the former's deceptions keep mounting.

Matching his protagonist's mindset, Zaillian brings a cool, calculated air to Ripley — and not just through its crisp and meticulously imagery, which is lensed with an eye for sumptuous beauty tainted by ominous urges, and for keen observation, with command by cinematographer Robert Elswit (Bob Marley: One Love, and also an Oscar-winner for There Will Be Blood). This masterful telling relishes noir as its guiding genre and mood, but patiently. It lingers and waits, as Tom does. It stares on probingly from all angles. It isn't in a rush for a second. Accordingly, Ripley is more intimate, especially in the ins and outs of Tom's decisions and their messy aftermaths, than its predecessors. It's also less enamoured with its central figure's charms. It dwells on minutiae, all of it revealing, whether it's the choice of a robe for Dickie or the all-seeing glare of an apartment-block cat. And when, earlier than might be expected, Tom and Dickie take to the ocean in San Remo, Zaillian's handling of the cleanup — its physical arduousness, but also the way that Tom knows exactly what he's doing — says everything about the show's key character study.

Walking in Dickie's shoes is an act of treachery within Ripley's narrative. Following in Delon, Hopper, Damon, Malkovich and Pepper's footsteps feels fated for Scott — that's how mesmerising he is in the part. The ease of his Fleabag hot priest, the haunting longing simmering in his stunning All of Us Strangers performance, the guile of his time as Moriarty in Sherlock: blend them together and that's just his starting point. He knows, as Zaillian does, that it isn't enough to simply see why Dickie embraces Tom's presence, and why Marge is wary and Freddie dismissive in tandem. In those roles, Flynn, Fanning and Sumner are all excellent. Lombardi is scene-stealingly gripping, also. But to watch Scott as Tom is to peer at someone who could be anyone, and yet would do anything in the quest to be someone other than himself. Ripley is a limited series, but it's now time to begin pining for Scott to return in adaptations of Ripley Under Ground, Ripley's Game, The Boy Who Followed Ripley and Ripley Under Water as well.

Check out the trailer for Ripley below:

Ripley streams via Netflix from Thursday, April 4, 2024.

Images: Netflix.

Published on April 04, 2024 by Sarah Ward
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