Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman in new thriller ‘The Undoing’
Secrets and lies: Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman in new thriller ‘The Undoing’ © HBO

Dr Jonathan Fraser could not look more saintly if painted by Giotto. An attractive if timeworn husband and caring father to tousled-headed son Henry, he’s endlessly solicitous for his child cancer patients. Together with his wife Grace (Nicole Kidman), he’s a fixture on the Manhattan social scene, and to cap it all, he’s played by Hugh Grant. However, in the new thriller from The Night Manager’s director Susanne Bier, there’s rather more to the charming doctor than his friends suspect.

Nemesis for the Frasers arrives via Reardon, Henry’s $50,000 a year private school, where Grace serves on a scholarship fundraising committee. Whenever parents or staff talk about the need for “diversity” you can almost hear the scare quotes, so eyebrows are raised when Elena, mother to one of the school’s few Hispanic pupils, joins the committee. However, she commits what is perceived as a gross faux pas by breastfeeding during a meeting (and more to the point, by being so young and beautiful). Grace is the only one to empathise, but she’s then unsettled by a chance meeting in a changing room with a stark-naked Elena. Maybe there’s no such thing as a chance meeting anyway.

While the Frasers hang out in vast apartments with society couples who own matching Hockneys, their own shabby-fabulous home is not on that scale. But Grace can afford to dress down as she comes from old money; father Franklyn lives in a sumptuous apartment stuffed with antiquities. (Donald Sutherland, magnificent as a lion pretending to be a house-cat.) 

Everything fits neatly in its correct social stratum, until a shocking death and a disappearance draw unwelcome media attention to rarefied Reardon. The series is adapted from Jean Hanff Korelitz’s 2014 novel You Should Have Known, and being a highly paid therapist specialising in couples, everybody secretly thinks Grace should have seen the events coming.

Kidman is the mistress of vulpine consternation, and her bohemian wardrobe, all droopy textured coats and flowing dresses, looks like a leftover from when she played Virginia Woolf. Whether, for all her liberal principles, Grace thinks the same rules apply to her as to Elena and her distraught husband, Fernando, is moot. The less privileged characters have just as much nuance, if not as much agency: secretive Elena (Matilda De Angelis) is an artist, Fernando (Ismael Cruz Córdova) has his own brooding complexity. Why the hell isn’t he a suspect, fumes Grace to the pair of cops dogging her. 

There’s some lovely work in the smaller parts: Lily Rabe as Grace’s loyal friend Sylvia, Noma Dumezweni as a ruthless defence lawyer, and Sofie Gråbøl as a fearsome prosecutor. Don’t miss Douglas Hodge as “The Badger”, a public defender who’s a lot shrewder than his reputation suggests. He can certainly teach Grace a thing or two about reading people.

★★★★★

On HBO from October 25 at 9pm and Sky Atlantic from October 26 at 9pm

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