Ripley, Netflix, review: even Andrew Scott can’t salvage this colourless thriller

Andrew Scott gets under murderer Tom Ripley's skin
Andrew Scott gets under murderer Tom Ripley's skin - Netflix
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Andrew Scott is great in Ripley, Netflix’s new take on Patricia Highsmith’s literary creation. Unfortunately, his casting is the only smart decision here.

The series covers the same ground as The Talented Mr Ripley, Anthony Minghella’s 1999 film. But whereas that version was sun-drenched and gorgeous, this one is made in dispiriting black and white. Individual shots look beautiful, but the overall effect is deadening. Ripley’s writer and director Steve Zaillian says that he was inspired by the fact that, when Highsmith published her novel in 1955, films were “basically” all black and white, which isn’t factually correct.

Scott plays the title role of con artist Tom Ripley, hired to retrieve Dickie Greenleaf, the son of a wealthy shipping boss, from a dissolute life in Italy. I half-expected the production to pull a Wizard of Oz and switch to glorious Technicolor when Ripley arrives on the Amalfi Coast.

But on we trudge in monochrome, a decision which seems even sillier when the script makes reference to colour, from the specific tone of a bathrobe to the “blue period” paintings Dickie produces in homage to Picasso, whose work hangs on his wall. The film noir stylings also mean that the location, Atrani, is oddly under-populated, with a deserted beach and gloomy weather.

One of the reasons why Minghella’s film worked so well was that it starred a young Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow, actors possessed of dazzling glamour and good looks. It made perfect sense that Ripley (portrayed then by Matt Damon) would want to inveigle himself into their world. But in the Netflix version, Dickie and his girlfriend are bored and boring, listlessly played by Johnny Flynn and Dakota Fanning. This can only be Zaillian’s fault, because Flynn is a magnetic screen presence elsewhere (see the 2020 adaptation of Emma).

Scott, though, gets under Ripley’s skin. Liar, forger, sociopath, murderer – Ripley is all of these, but Scott also mines the character’s vulnerabilities. He is the eternal outsider, desperate to belong. Initially awkward when pretending to be from Dickie and Marge’s milieu, he gradually assimilates through careful study and his gift for mimicry. Long stretches go by with no dialogue, when we’re simply observing Scott’s meticulous efforts to maintain the con.

Andrew Scott and Dakota Fanning at the Los  Angeles premiere of Ripley
Andrew Scott and Dakota Fanning at the Los Angeles premiere of Ripley - Shutterstock

But the actor is repeatedly let down by the production. A scene in which he tries on Dickie’s clothes and imitates his voice, only for Dickie to walk in and catch him, should be a moment of high dramatic tension. Here it falls flat, with Flynn filmed at a distance so that we can barely see his facial expressions.

The eight episodes unfold at a stately pace (six would have worked better). Things pep up in the second half when it becomes a cat-and-mouse game between Ripley and a police inspector, played by Maurizio Lombardi. The latter gives a charismatic supporting performance – which is more than can be said for Eliot Sumner, offspring of Sting and Trudie Styler. Cast your mind back to the film and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s scene-stealing turn as Freddie Miles, Dickie’s friend, who meets Ripley and instantly smells a rat.

Lord knows how Sumner landed the role, but their acting could politely be described as unpractised. It’s another of this drama’s dud choices. The film is also available on Netflix. Treat yourself to that instead.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 3 months with unlimited access to our award-winning website, exclusive app, money-saving offers and more.