It’s been asserted in this column that there’s been a negative reaction against the true-crime genre. It’s true. One of the pandemic-era phenomena was a new hostility to fetishizing criminals and their grisly crimes. And then, along comes a true-crime series that is so firmly linked to an ongoing and appalling case, that attention must be paid.
Epstein’s Shadow: Ghislaine Maxwell (streams Crave from Friday) is a new three-part docu-series focused on British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, notorious for her close association with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. She sits in jail in New York City and her trial on a variety of charges – to which she pleads innocence – is expected in November.
It is not possible to put aside the sordid and utterly vile crimes of which Epstein was further accused when he died in jail – the abuse and rape of girls as young as 14. It is possible, mind you, to wonder how on earth the British socialite became involved with him and what path took her from a grand existence in England to an American jail, and accused of the grooming, abusing and trafficking of those young women whom she allegedly helped serve up to Epstein.
The series – a Canadian production that recently streamed on Peacock in the U.S. – aims for the personal story but also touches gingerly on the matter of who Epstein and Maxwell knew and who was part of their strange, perverse circle. You don’t need to be a detective to figure out that a small army of lawyers have pored over the series and every assertion made in it.
Maxwell’s story reaches back to another scandal with mystery attached to it. She is the daughter of Robert Maxwell, the British media tycoon and one-time MP who drowned while sailing on his yacht some years ago. The yacht was named The Lady Ghislaine. Immediately, there were rumours about the death being suicide or a murder. But soon enough, what was revealed about Maxwell’s empire was stunning – he’d raided the pension funds to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds. In death, he was in disgrace. As was daughter Ghislaine who moved to New York City, became a well-known socialite and connected to Jeffrey Epstein.
Much if the series is made up of her former friends and schoolmates in England, expressing horror. She was “huge fun” in her youth and she “had you in stitches,” says one former crony. Another says she was always “quite mysterious in a way.” Much is made of her relationship with her father, a terrifying, bombastic figure who demanded to be pleased by his children all the time. And, naturally it is speculated that in Epstein she found a replacement father figure. There is too much of that pop-psychology here.
It is not easy viewing and you might well be repulsed by the allegations against both Epstein and Maxwell. For all the dazzle and glamour that once surrounded Ghislaine Maxwell, and the mystery of her involvements, note that one of Epstein’s victims says, in the first segment, “She knew that every time she called me, I was going to be raped.”
A bracing cleanser and alternative is a recent discovery on Netflix – Huge in France, which is droll, and nicely off-kilter. The premise sounds like a typical fish-out-of-water set-up. Gad Elmaleh, one of the most famous comedians in France (he’s actually Moroccan-Canadian) plays a version of himself and this version is a successful comedian so full of ennui that he flees France for Los Angeles. There, his ex Vivian (Erinn Hayes), has been raising their son Luke (Jordan Ver Hoeve) for years. She’s also got a partner, a model-turned actor, one Jason Alan Ross (Matthew Del Negro). Gad wants some fulfilment from spending time with the son he rarely sees.
What ensues is not exactly as expected. Gad being an unknown in the U.S. stops being a joke quickly. It’s his perspective on LA and his son’s obsession with modelling that becomes both droll and strangely heartwarming. A gem of a series, not outright hilarious or scathing; just nicely idiosyncratic.
Briefly – if you consumed the recent PBS series about Ernest Hemingway, be aware of the HBO movie Hemingway & Gellhorn (Saturday, HBO Saturday 8 p.m.). It’s a rather broad interpretation of the relationship between Hemingway (Clive Owen) and his third wife, Martha Gellhorn (Nicole Kidman). What gets a bit lost is Gellhorn’s standing as one of the great war correspondents in journalism history. The focus us more on the fiery relationship, in what is very old-fashioned storytelling.
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