HBO Max Original THE STAIRCASE Offers New Perspectives on a Decades-Old Murder Case

The new miniseries will provide additional details on the story documented in Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s 2004 Peabody Award-winning film The Staircase.

Colin Firth, Sophie Turner and Tim Guinee in HBO Max Original THE STAIRCASE written and directed by Antonio Campos.
Courtesy of HBO Max

HBO’s new true crime drama miniseries, The Staircase (2022), starring Toni Collette (Hereditary) and Colin Firth (Before I Go to Sleep), premiered on May 5. Written and directed by Antonio Campos, the miniseries is based on the 2004 docuseries of the same name, which followed the mysterious death of Kathleen Peterson and the trial that came after her husband, novelist Michael Peterson was accused of her murder. The series serves to dramatize the true events presented in the documentary and provide new perspectives.

On December 9, 2001, in North Carolina, novelist Michael Peterson (Firth) calls emergency services, claiming his wife, Kathleen Peterson (Collette) is badly injured after falling down a staircase in their home. When paramedics arrive on the scene, Kathleen is discovered dead at the foot of their basement staircase. The death appears to be a tragic accident, but medical examiner Dr. Deborah Radisch declares the death a homicide. In a 2006 interview with ABC News, lead detective Art Holland said there was, “an abundant amount of blood on her, on the floor, on the walls, that just was not consistent with somebody falling down the steps.” When French director Jean Xavier de Lestrade (Vincent Vermignon) hears about the case, he requests to document the family and the trial.

HBO intends to dramatize the documentary The Staircase (2004) directed by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s, while also including new details. In a 2020 interview with Den of Geek, Campos said, “It’s loosely based on the documentary. The documentary is part of the story that we’re telling, and it also encompasses a lot of the Staircase story that happened outside of the documentary and things that were not included in the documentary. So I’ve been with that story for a long time and I’m hopeful that we can do justice to that complicated narrative too.” The 13-episode docuseries premiered on Netflix in June 2018 with episodes chronicling the case from 2004.

The first four episodes have given viewers new perspectives of this story that were not present in de Lestrade’s documentary, such as the months leading up to Kathleen’s death. It depicts the lives of a seemingly normal and loving family. These episodes also include the weeks before the trial as evidence mounts against Michael, the beginning of the documentary’s production, and the first trial. According to a breaking news story from Deadline by Caroline Frost on May 15, de Lestrade told Vanity Fair: “We gave [Campos] all the access he wanted, and I really trusted the man. So that’s why today I’m very uncomfortable because I feel that I’ve been betrayed in a way.”

This statement reportedly is a result of the way the documentary team is depicted in the HBO miniseries dramatization. According to Vanity Fair, de Lestrade and fellow producer Matthieu Belghiti have now sent a letter to Campos demanding that “the offending allegations be removed from episode five before it airs publicly” or that the series have a disclaimer added to each episode, emphasizing that the story is “inspired” by the real-life events. While the miniseries is fictionalized, it’s implied that the documentary team’s actions may have swayed legal decisions in the case including the romantic relationship between Michael Peterson and one of the documentary’s film editors, Sophie Burnet.

Their relationship reportedly began through email after Peterson’s conviction in 2003 and ended in 2017 throughout the entirety of the documentary project. The relationship was first reported by The News & Observer after the Netflix docuseries premiere. This case has intrigued true crime enthusiasts for over 20 years and though I’ve enjoyed the HBO miniseries episodes, I am anxious to see if the rest of the series does the story justice.

New episodes will release on HBO Max every Thursday in the 8-episode miniseries, with the last episode set to air on June 9, 2022.