Scenes from a Marriage

Raw, intimate, improvised and like a stream of consciousness is a new miniseries with Jessica Chestain.

The opening moments of Scenes from a Marriage break through the fourth wall with Jessica Chastain walking onto a sound stage, surrounded by crew in COVID masks before “action” is called…

It’s a rare Moonlighting-like moment (but not really) of acknowledging performance, without ever really explaining why.

Suddenly, she is Mira, a 40 year old tech manager and wife of teacher Jonathan (Oscar Isaac), sitting in their affluent American home, giving a candid interview to their babysitter Danielle (Sunita Mani) who is doing a PhD in Gender Studies.

Answering intimate questions about being a long term couple, it’s clear there’s a fair deal of improvisation undertaken here. Almost like theatre, the scene is long, talky and intimate. But this couple explain that respect and seeking ‘equilibrirum’ has helped them eclipse 10 years together.

This contrasts to a dinner with two friends in an open relationship (Corey Stoll and Nicole Beharie), whose liberal approach to togetherness is masking deeper frictions.

Yet our couple will also be tested by news Jessica receives (which is a bit of a spoiler) and complicates their apparent harmony.

In the hands of writer / director Hagai Levi (The Affair), Chastain and Isaac are afforded enormous trust to shape the material based on a 1973 Swedish miniseries of the same name by Ingmar Bergman. Dialogue overlaps, thoughts are left hanging, and there are moments of stillness.

It all adds up to an authentic, stream of consciousness, not unlike Playhouse television. This leaves Chastain and Isaac as a kind of modern Burton / Taylor (albeit without the firepower of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), and ideal for those wanting to watch a study in acting.

As a largely two-hander tale, this won’t be for everybody -the opening scene alone is some 18 minutes long. But Hagai Levi allows for raw, complex exchanges, dense sub-text and acting chops his cast delivers.

By episode 2 conflict is well and truly laid bare, and it’s hard to deny your attachment to this ideal American marriage.

The breaking of the fourth wall, however brief at the top of each episode, is possibly there for relief. Otherwise its all too, too real…

Scenes from a Marriage 11am Monday, September 13 on FOX Showcase.

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