Plot: Winslet stars as Mare Sheehan, a small-town Pennsylvania detective who investigates a local murder as life crumbles around her. Mare of Easstown is an exploration into the dark side of a close community and an authentic examination of how family and past tragedies can define our present.
Review: There are few combinations that instill instant confidence in a critic like HBO and Kate Winslet. Both are known for top-tier productions and acting and have previously collaborated on 2011's award-winning mini-series Mildred Pierce. A decade later, Winslet reunites for HBO's new marquee series Mare of Easttown in which she plays a much different character but with equally praise-worthy results. A combination murder mystery and character drama, Mare of Easttown is equal parts True Detective and Manchester By The Sea. It is a look at a small town through the lens of a horrific crime but anchored by a cast of realistic characters. Led by the always amazing Kate Winslet, this is a series that will have you less focused on solving the whodunit and more on experiencing the lives of these characters.
Mare of Easttown is the latest limited series to come from a single writer and director. In this case, it is scripted by Brad Ingelsby who wrote the excellent films Our Friend and The Way Back. Ingelsby has shown he has a knack for developing psychologically broken characters and giving them stories that are not purely about redemption. Director Craig Zobel, whose work ranges from the films Z for Zachariah and last year's pulpy satire The Hunt to small-screen work on Westworld and The Leftovers, doesn't try to do anything flashy with Mare of Easttown but instead delivers a portrait of a fully fleshed out small Pennsylvania town and the citizens who populate it. This series quickly shows how you bring a blue-collar community to life in a way that is not patronizing or cliche.
At the forefront is Kate Winslet who plays Mare Sheehan, a police detective and local celebrity after winning a high school basketball championship twenty-five years earlier. Jaded and exhausted after a life stuck in Easttown, Mare cares for her daughter, her mother, her grandson, and struggles with the specter of her deceased son. All of this coupled with custody issues and a cold case regarding the disappearance of a local teen a year earlier. When a new murder happens, Mare begins investigating alongside a hotshot detective from outside of town (Evan Peters). As she deals with all of the suspects, many of whom she has known her entire life, and a burgeoning romance with a literature professor (Guy Pearce), Mare's life unravels as quickly as her investigation.
With a supporting cast including Jean Smart, David Denham, Angourie Rice, Cailee Spaeny, Julianne Nicholson, and more, Mare of Easttown is full of characters who are likable but many who are not. This is not a sexy, glossy production but one where even the most famous faces look like average neighbors you may see on the street. There are many moments of uncomfortable drama and realism throughout without ignoring the funny moments in daily life. Mare of Easttown features many lines that had me laughing, mostly from the always excellent Jean Smart as well as Evan Peters who delivers one of the best performances of his career. Peters plays a character here unlike his usual roles and I am thankful he gets to play against type, especially so closely behind his role on the Disney+ series WandaVision.
The real standout is Winslet who, as always, transforms into her character. Mare is not always a likeable person but she is absolutely a relatable one. Through the five episodes made available for this review (the series consists of a total of seven), I went from rooting for Mare to sympathizing with her to outright disliking her. But, like a real person, Mare makes mistakes and deals with the consequences. All of this comes wrapped up in a murder mystery that runs parallel to the daily lives of these characters. Brad Ingelsby and Craig Zobel do an excellent job of telling a story that feels like it was adapted from a substantial novel. I kept looking to see if this was based on a book I had somehow missed reading as Mare of Easttown would easily have been a bestseller. The fact this is an original tale in an era when virtually everything is a remake or adaptation is a testament to the quality original stories that HBO still endeavors to bring to screens.
Mare of Easttown is a series that starts out as a mystery about a deal girl before developing into something much more. Each episode delivers clues and red herrings while we try to solve the same case that Mare is working on, but it then equally devotes time and narrative to exploring who Mare is and how she became this way. It is a devastating story and one that will most assuredly garner Kate Winslet awards consideration as much as I hope it does for Evan Peters. I hope the final two episodes live up to the first five as this is a story that took me one episode to appreciate before I was absolutely invested in the rest. Mare of Easttown may not be as buzzworthy of series as other recent HBO productions but it may be the best original creation they have delivered in a long time.
Mare of Easttown premieres on April 18th on HBO.