First look Apple TV+ review: Lisey’s Story
James R | On 04, Jun 2021
Episode 1 and 2 of Lisey’s Story premiere on Friday 4th June, with episodes then arriving weekly.
William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens may be vying for the title of most adapted author of all time, but based on the last decade, Stephen King is going to give them a good run for their money. The author has had a wave of books adapted for Netflix, plus an HBO series and even an unexpected sequel to The Shining – a reminder that King hasn’t always been pleased with the way his work has translated to the screen. As Apple TV+ enters the King arena with Lisey’s Story, then, he’s taken the step of adapting his work himself, turning the 500-page novel into an eight-episode drama.
Sometimes, though, it’s better to get someone less attached to the material to do the translating, and Lisey’s Story is a case in point. The author is dead to begin with, as we jump into the story after the funeral of Scott Landon (Clive Owen), a prolific fantasy writer who leaves behind Lisey (Julianne Moore) and several boxes of archived scribblings.
Lisey is struggling to move on with life, not least because she’s got a lot to deal with, from her unstable sister, Amanda (Joan Allen), who has never met a piece of crockery she won’t smash, to Professor Dashmiel (the always-brilliant Ron Cephas Jones), who is determined to get his hands on Landon’s work so that it can live on. All the while, she’s haunted by her husband, who was killed by a bullet in the hands of an assassin – but also repeatedly pops up to tell us that he has healing powers, talk about a magical pool of water or speak something else that doesn’t quite make sense.
Mystery is the aim of the game here, and the cast are more than up for assembling the puzzle pieces. Clive Owen gets a rare chance to play menacing as the sinister shadowy presence, while Julianne Moore is in comfortable territory exploring grief, fear and trauma. In between them, Dane DeHaan steals scenes as Jim Dooley, a superfan with a violent streak.
Behind the camera, Pablo Larrain brings some gorgeously cinematic flourishes, with a smattering of genuinely unnerving visual effects. The script, however, does its best to undo all of that promising atmosphere. It dangles enigmas all over the place to the point where it feels confused and crowded, gives DeHaan’s Dooley such dire dialogue that any threat he poses soon dissipates, and makes Scott appear so many times over the opening two episodes that his absence in Lisey’s life never registers at all.
“Every marriage keeps its own secrets,” the opening titles ominously tell us, but there are only so many times you can jump from a false memory to a real memory before you start to get whiplash.
Lisey’s Story is available on Apple TV+, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription, with a seven-day free trial. For more information on Apple TV+ and how to get it, click here.