RIPLEY. Elegant Charm of Deception [REVIEW]

“Ripley” starring Andrew Scott is a refined adaptation. The series is available on Netflix.

Michal Kaczon

4 April 2024


“Ripley,” a mini-series by Steven Zaillian, who both directs and writes the screenplay based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel, is an exceptionally refined, intriguing, and elegant adaptation of the story, capable of surprising even those familiar with the film starring Jude Law and Matt Damon, which was nominated for five Oscars. I am evaluating Netflix’s new production.

Thomas Ripley is a character conceived by the American author Patricia Highsmith and accompanied her across five volumes of popular novels. A charming fraudster, capable of captivating and “charming” others with his charm and cunning, Ripley seized the minds of Hollywood screenwriters, who have repeatedly brought Ripley’s stories to the big screen. The most famous adaptation is, of course, Anthony Minghella’s 1999 version, which was nominated for five Oscars and the same number of Golden Globes. The new version, although based on the same source material, Highsmith’s novel “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” significantly differs from the vision of the British director, essentially improving upon every element of that rather mediocre adaptation. As part of my chronicling duty, I must also add that the series was originally commissioned by Showtime but ultimately found its way into Netflix’s catalog, where its premiere took place.


"Ripley": Slow but Savory

The story of Thomas Ripley begins in New York in the early 1960s, where the main character sustains himself through a series of small and slightly larger scams. Sometimes he intercepts someone else’s paycheck that comes in the mail, sometimes he tricks someone by pretending to be a bank employee over the phone. When a private detective approaches him with an offer he can’t refuse on behalf of a wealthy shipyard owner, the protagonist doesn’t hesitate for a moment, seeing another opportunity for easy money. However, the real action begins in Italy, where Tom travels to meet his employer’s son and persuade him to return home. Quickly, though, we realize that Ripley has come to beautiful Italy for his own purposes.

The action of the first episodes unfolds at a leisurely pace, gradually introducing the viewer to the story being told. Initially, this poses a certain obstacle to finding the right rhythm, but it’s worth noting that many of the elements we see in the first episodes will form the basis for interesting visual jokes that we will notice throughout the production. What initially troubled me was not only the slow narration, which I later got used to and even began to cherish, but also some script inconsistencies that painfully stood out. Suffice it to say that during the viewing of the first episode, I had to write to a friend, lamenting about the ridiculous dialogue that almost drove me to madness. The character first says that he “doesn’t know where his son is currently,” only to provide the interlocutor with almost his exact address literally a few seconds later. This line significantly raised my blood pressure because I felt that it could have been easily corrected, without making fools of the character or the audience.

Fortunately, the further I went into it, the better it got, and each subsequent episode I watched with increasing engagement. I must admit that I consider the best episodes to be those numbered five (“Lucio”) and eight (“Narcissus”). The former for the skillful building of tension in the difficult relationships between two people and for the interesting (metaphorical) tightening of the noose around the protagonist’s neck, who begins to falter and make mistakes. Discovering the human side of a rather aloof and emotionally guarded character was a very interesting experience. The latter, due to a certain stylistic change, a spectacular and daring opening scene, and an extremely skillful conclusion to the entire story.

"Ripley": Dark but Humorous


The style of Steven Zaillian’s series is exceptionally intriguing. Bathed in black and white frames, subdued music, beautiful architecture, play of light and shadow, and numerous references to painting and the life of the Italian painter Caravaggio constitute the stylistic foundations of the production. Ripley can also be somewhat dark and bloody, and at times almost grotesque (scenes on the boat), but the creators adeptly balance these moments, occasionally treating us to unforced humor. Some of the deadpan dialogues deserve special praise, as they can be quite amusing. Also delightful are the little touches and winks. Like the fact that in one of the episodes, a certain well-known actor appears, who in the past portrayed Ripley in one of the films based on Highsmith’s books.

"Ripley" - Review. "He's a Good Person"

The biggest star of the series is undoubtedly Andrew Scott, who embodies the main character with verve, sophistication, and a wide range of carefully concealed emotions. It’s essentially his behavior and adept playing with the expectations of others that propels this series forward, allowing us to enjoy each subsequent episode and storyline element. Tom’s behavior changes as the story progresses, and it’s fascinating to watch how he gradually transforms into a more confident man who excels at manipulating people. Andrew Scott is excellent as always, and his Tom simply captivates us on screen.

However, it’s also worth delving into the other characters of this story. Especially into Eliot Sumner, who portrays Freddie Miles. He’s a third-tier character who nevertheless has a significant impact on the plot, and moreover, he emanates a very specific energy from the screen, palpable from his first scene. Casting a non-binary actor in this role was a stroke of genius because precisely this inability to classify Freddie allows us to understand the uncertainty and apprehension that the character evokes in Ripley himself. It’s as if by choosing the actor, the creator allows the viewer to feel like the main character and understand the conflicting emotions stirring within. Not without significance is the fact that Freddie is simultaneously flirtatious and coquettish, somewhat buffoonish and overly confident, and it’s for this reason that he gets under the skin of the main character. Ripley not only senses competition in him but also feels that he might lose to Freddie by playing his own game. Miles is the most important character of the fifth episode, which I consider the best in the entire series, precisely because of the unusual relationship between the two men and the mutual attraction and repulsion that is watched with excitement.


Johnny Flynn as Dickie also performs well. He’s appropriately self-assured and preoccupied with his own desires to notice that someone might want to take advantage of him. Although I must admit that the British actor sometimes lacks a bit of relaxation and charisma that emanated from Jude Law in the 1999 version (his role was probably the best element of that film anyway). Dakota Fanning is not bad either, playing her character credibly, although she deliberately uses rather limited means of expression. Nevertheless, Marge’s dilemmas and behavior are understandable to us. Maurizio Lombardi as Inspector Ravini, on the other hand, is excellent, skillfully manipulating words and creating an unusual mood merely by his presence in the room. It’s no coincidence that most of the scenes involving him have excellent comedic timing, which can cause laughter multiple times. The Italian actor often steals the scene with his ripostes and general demeanor.

"Ripley": Evaluating Steven Zaillian's Series

Netflix has pleasantly surprised me once again. Almost exactly a year ago, I was enthralled by the series “Beef,” which I ultimately dubbed the title of 2023. I don’t know if a similar fate awaits Ripley, but now, freshly after the screening, I am simply delighted. It’s an exquisite, honeyed series that I watched with undisguised pleasure once I got into its rhythm and style. The production allowed me to savor its meticulously crafted elements and absorb the slowly unfolding story. The payoffs of the presented situations are satisfying, and the plot resolutions are credible. The actors excel in their roles, and their dialogues in many languages simply sound delicious. Almost everything in this series is finely tuned, and some solutions are tailor-made, cleverly interconnecting with each other. Watching Andrew Scott is once again pure pleasure, but other casting decisions also provided me with equally strong impressions.


The creators have announced that although Ripley is planned as a closed story, the tale has the potential to develop further. After all, there are still four volumes of the original novels, from which motifs can be drawn in abundance. I must admit that I would eagerly like to see more of Tom’s adventures, perhaps focusing on his travels to other European countries, where, just as strongly as here, he admires the culture, leaving behind bloody traces. During the screening, I not only felt the desire to learn more about the character’s further adventures but also to acquaint myself with the original novel. What failed in the 1999 film adaptation, which seemed clumsy and improbable to me, resonated brilliantly in Steven Zaillian’s vision. Therefore, if that adaptation could be nominated for five Oscars, Steven Zaillian’s Ripley should receive all the Emmys and Golden Globes. It’s simply an exquisite, savory, and elegant series! A must-watch.

Michal Kaczon

Michal Kaczon

A cultural journalist and a fan of pop culture in its various forms. A lover of film and music festivals, where he is a frequent and enthusiastic participant. He sometimes treats the cinema as a second home.

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