Scenes From A Marriage TV Review

Plot: Adapted from Ingmar Bergman’s classic Swedish miniseries and developed, written, and directed by Hagai Levi, the series re-examines the original’s iconic depiction of love, hatred, desire, monogamy, marriage, and divorce through the lens of a contemporary American couple.

Review: Remakes are always tricky, especially when tackling something widely considered a classic. The original 1973 Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From A Marriage is considered a classic by many, garnering spots on best-of lists for the year as well as falling into many lists of the greatest films of all time. But, for modern audiences unfamiliar with Bergman’s films, this new adaptation offers a modern look at a deeply personal and human story featuring a pair of the most talented actors working today. Spread over five hour-long episodes, the 2021 version of Scenes From A Marriage is a heartbreaking production that will surely earn awards for all involved.

Scenes From A Marriage served as the inspiration for everything from soap opera Knot’s Landing to Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives and Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy. In the last few years, we have seen Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story and Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe’s Master of None: Moments in Love draw heavily from Bergman’s film. This new version comes from writer/director Hagai Levi who created the acclaimed HBO series In Treatment and Showtime series The Affair, both of which deal with trauma in relationships from a psychological vantage point. They also feature actors delivering powerful performances. All of that comes together in this new take that feels like a series of punches to the stomach, vacillating from quiet intensity to fury, with every chapter complimenting the original Bergman film while making updates that work for changes in our culture four decades later.

Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain previously played a very different couple in A Most Violent Year but their chemistry is immediately rekindled. With only slight changes to how the story unfolds, even the episode titles match the 1973 version (minus the second chapter which does not exist in the 2021 version), this iteration still feels vital and new. As Jonathan and Mira, Isaac and Chastain take us through the highs and lows of a marriage that is disintegrating. For virtually the entire series, the focus is just on the two of them. Supporting roles feature Corey Stoll and Nicole Beharie as friends dealing with their own marital discord, but for five hours, we see different milestone moments in the relationship between Mira and Jonathan and no one else. There are quiet scenes with no dialogue opposite tennis matches with the actors lobbing back and forth at one another. It is exhausting, in the best way possible, to see how these events unfold.

With multi-month time jumps between each episode, we get to see a large span of time as this couple falls apart and together again, over and over. The love between the two devolves and it is difficult to watch, but it is also stunningly performed. Anyone who has ever been in a romantic relationship will relate to different aspects of what unfolds over the course of this series. While the title alludes to these just being scenes from a marriage, the entirety of this story is encompassed in the five hours we spend watching it unfold. There is a lot to unpack in each episode but never does this feel like a series. This is a cohesive cinematic work that unfurls over multiple chapters, but there is no distinction between this being a film or a show.

Minimalist in filmmaking approach, each episode features minimal music but when it does, the score by Evgueni and Sacha Galperine is haunting. Levi interestingly chooses to open each of the episodes with a behind-the-scenes shot of the set. The cast and crew, wearing masks, showcases the production taking place in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which does not factor into the story at all as it is set in 2019. As the camera follows the actors preparing to film the opening scene of the episode, it transitions from a chaotic mix of everyone involved in making this series happen to a quiet shift into the narrative of the series. It is somewhat jarring but also throws the viewer off in a way that echoes how these characters feel within the story. The artifice we see of the sets and preparation to film are offset but just how authentic the story feels when we watch it.

Scenes From A Marriage plays out as a five-hour masterclass in acting with Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain delivering the best work of their careers. You will empathize with both Jonathan and Mira at times and you will also despise them for things they say or do. Far more contained than Marriage Story and far less preoccupied with being an homage as Moments in Love, this is an astounding work that will emotionally drain you. This is an absolutely perfect work of filmmaking and acting that will not be rivaled by anything else this year.

Scenes From A Marriage premieres on September 12th on HBO.

Scenes from a Marriage



About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.