ALL TRUTHS COME TO LIGHT.
On a recent episode of Conan O’Brien’s podcast, Jake Tapper was a guest. When they started talking about Mare of Easttown, which Tapper was watching, he had to point out that if you’re born in that part of Pennsylvania you can’t watch that show and take the cast’s stab at the accent seriously. Tapper, who was raised just outside Philadelphia, still liked Mare of Easttown, and a lot of people in that area probably appreciated a story that took place in their neighborhood and featured an accent rarely heard in movies and on TV – the Delco, common in Delaware County.
In any case, this limited series is a thrilling and moving tale about community and grief.
Struggling to meet everyone’s needs
Easttown is a small suburb outside of Philadelphia where police detective Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) is struggling to meet everyone’s needs. She’s a familiar and helpful face in the community, but her failure to solve the disappearance of a teenage girl a year ago is giving her a headache, especially since the girl’s mother is blaming her. At the same time, Mare is taking care of her four-year-old grandson whose mother is fighting for custody in spite of her heroin addiction. Also, Mare’s ex-husband Frank (David Denman) is remarrying, which apparently is something everybody in Mare’s life knows about, except her. And then a teenage girl is found murdered in a local creek.
Fusing both talents
This was a personal project for writer Brad Ingelsby, so successful for him and HBO that the network signed a three-year deal with him after the end of Mare of Easttown. This was the place where Ingelsby was born and even if the story is entirely fictionalized, what makes it stand out is the portrait of the community. In his previous screenplays, like the ones he wrote for The Way Back and American Woman, Ingelsby had shown a knack for creating grounded character portraits, but a story like Run All Night (2015) was also evidence of how he could write an exciting yarn.
Both talents came to great use for this limited series, even if some critics found the murder mystery less than satisfying. Admittedly, it is the least interesting part of the story and, like so many other TV projects, Mare of Easttown might have benefited from a shorter running time and better focus. Still, I’m not sure what exactly should have been cut. The testy relationship between Mare and the young county detective (Evan Peters) sent in to help her with the missing-girl case is nicely crafted, resulting in an encounter with the kidnapper that will have you on the edge of your seat, reminiscent of The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
And the depiction of Mare and her family and situation in life needs time to unfold, covering the horrifying suicide of her son, the painful relationship with her daughter, an amusing flirt with an attractive writer (Guy Pearce)… and then there’s her mother. Jean Smart is wonderful as a very headstrong woman, but the true star of the show is Winslet; this is an outstanding performance as a woman who is constantly battling her own demons, while also being subjected to pain and rage from neighbors in a very small community. Her torment is tangible – and, yes, Winslet worked hard on the accent. Her performance also resulted in headlines for another reason: Winslet made sure that Mare was going to be portrayed as a real woman in her forties, not some Hollywood star with a perfect body.
In the final, moving sequence, Mare overcomes her grief and shows an ability to move forward. It’s beautiful closure for a story that devotes more time to character than mystery.
Mare of Easttown 2021-U.S. Made for TV. 398 min. Color. Created and written by Brad Ingelsby. Directed by Craig Zobel. Cast: Kate Winslet (Mare Sheehan), Julianne Nicholson (Lori Ross), Jean Smart (Helen Fahey), Angourie Rice, David Denman, Neal Huff… Guy Pearce.
Trivia: Originally shown in seven episodes. Co-executive produced by Winslet and Gavin O’Connor.
Last word: “I just sent [Winslet] the first two scripts through her agent. I never expected she would respond, my God, she’s iconic, but I think we just got to her at the right time. She was interested in doing something new; she wanted to take on a role that she hadn’t ever played before. She told me she’d never held a gun in any role she’d ever had, which shocked me given how many roles she’s played over the years. I think the appeal was, ‘this character is not like me at all. And that’s appealing to me.'” (Ingelsby, RogerEbert.com)