Why you should be watching The Act on STARZPLAY
Ivan Radford | On 06, Jan 2020
Barely 12 months have passed since Patricia Arquette delivered an unrecognisable turn in Escape at Dannemora, a thriller based on true events that won her a Golden Globe, and she’s already back on our screens delivering another unrecognisable turn in a drama based on true events that has won her a Golden Globe.
It would be hard to believe if she wasn’t so disturbingly convincing in The Act, a series about one of the most toxic mothers ever seen on screen. She is Dee Dee Blanchard, mother to Gypsy Blanchard (Joey King), a daughter who needs her mum’s protective care because of a dizzying array of conditions – including heart murmurs, a lethal sugar allergy, mental disabilities and epilepsy. Or does she?
That’s the unsettling truth underneath their relationship: that Dee Dee has been keeping her daughter trapped in a box of illness through a combination of lying, poisoning and gaslighting. It’s Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy at its most extreme, and sees Dee Dee counter doctors’ diagnoses with bare-faced denial, stubbornly living in a bubble despite all evidence and facts to the contrary.
Arquette is remarkable, managing to be almost sympathetically earnest even as she’s loathsome and horrifying. She’s matched every step of the way by Joey King, who impressed in Netflix’s The Kissing Booth (and has been in everything from White House Down to Fargo) and goes even further here, walking a delicate line between growing up and discovering the truth and not wanting to leave the security of what she knows.
Based on the 2016 BuzzFeed article Dee Dee Wanted Her Daughter To Be Sick, Gypsy Wanted Her Mom Murdered, the eight-part drama begins with a flash-forward to the story’s violent conclusion, making it clear that things don’t end well for Dee Dee. That knowledge gives the story an ominous tension that grips with every end credits roll, as their twisting, turning relationship – and Gypsy’s gradual discovery of the deception – gets increasingly warped.
But the real fun comes from the uncertainty that counters this inevitable, fixed end point: at all times, we’re not sure who’s actually putting on the biggest act. Has Dee Dee deluded herself after so many years of lying? Does she simply want to be wanted? And is Gypsy’s dependance upon her mum real or not? Does she simple want not to offend her mother? Who is tricking the other one into thinking everything’s fine?
As Gypsy finds herself bagging the Child of the Year Award, the attention, affection and her apparent inspiration to others are as compelling a reason as any to keep things going – while Dee Dee revels in the feeling of being Mother of the Year. Neither are fully innocent or fully immune from the charms of the ruse.
The result is slow paced but superbly performed, a character-driven drama that humanises the apparent monster of the tale, while descending further into Rosemary’s Baby-like horror. This is the first season in what Hulu plans to be a true crime anthology, but it’s testament to the strength of this duo that you could easily watch another eight episodes of just them.
The Act: Season 1 is available to watch online in the UK on STARZPLAY, a streaming service that costs £4.99 a month. The platform is available on Virgin Media On Demand or through Amazon Prime Video Channels, both as an add-on subscription to your existing account.