This story first appeared in the Emmy Race Begins issue of TheWrap magazine.
The critical response to HBO Max’s limited series “The Staircase” has been overwhelmingly positive. But Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, the French filmmaker who directed the Peabody award-winning docu-series of the same name on which the new drama is based, is not participating in the applause.
In a recent interview, de Lestrade told Vanity Fair that he felt “betrayed” by the HBO Max adaptation because he believes it questions his integrity and professionalism. The eight-episode drama tells the story of Michael Peterson (Colin Firth), the crime writer who was convicted in 2003 of killing his wife Kathleen (Toni Collette), whom he claims fell to her death on the stairs in their Durham, North Carolina home. (He was retried in 2011 and eventually took an Alford plea.) In addition to chronicling the trial and aftermath, “The Staircase” also features de Lestrade (played by Vincent Vermignon) and his film crew as characters. In more than one scene, we watch as he argues with his producer (Frank Feys) about including footage in their docuseries that is more favorable to Peterson and, it is suggested, reflects the filmmaker’s belief in Peterson’s innocence. In those same scenes, the editor Sophie Brunet (Juliette Binoche), who became romantically involved with Peterson, also appears to be biased.
“I understand if you dramatize. But when you attack the credibility of my work, that’s really not acceptable to me,” de Lestrade told Vanity Fair. “It’s alleged that we cut the documentary series in a way to help Peterson’s appeal, which is not true.”
When we asked Antonio Campos, the creator and showrunner of the HBO Max limited series, for his reaction to de Lestrade’s comments, he told us: “I have nothing but a deep respect and admiration for Jean-Xavier de Lestrade and for Sophie and for everyone involved in this documentary. And from the beginning, we were always doing something that was a dramatization inspired by true events. We approached everything in this story with as much care and love as we possibly could and infused that into their characters and had nothing but respect and admiration for the characters that we were creating of them.”
Maggie Cohn, who executive produced the miniseries with Campos, added: “The product that we made is, I think, very much, earnestly an homage to the thing that they created.”
Campos, who had access to de Lestrade’s “Staircase” archive, then said, “None of us would dispute that the documentary is a masterpiece. And that’s how we perceive it. The characters in our story were making something that is a masterpiece.”
Read more from The Race Begins issue here.