Ripley on Netflix review: Andrew Scott dazzles but Johnny Flynn and Dakota Johnson can’t compete with the original cast

The first thing to say about Netflix’s bold Ripley remake is that is unbelievably, extravagantly beautiful. The cinematography is grand and exquisite. I’ve never seen a television show look so cinematic. Think Hitchcock meets Antonioni meets Wes Anderson. Visually, it’s MDMA for the eyeballs, an absolute masterclass.

The series has, however, a terrible, and I’m afraid insurmountable problem. And that is that the 1999 adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith books, The Talented Mr Ripley, was cast so expertly with world class actors at the absolute apex of their talent that the cast in this can’t help but come up short.

To be fair, Andrew Scott is a magnificent Tom Ripley, inhabiting that compellingly ambivalently malevolent outsider character so well. His American accent is flawless and he is at the top of his game, bringing something different and supplementary to the role Matt Damon played in the original film. Dakota Fanning however can’t compete for a second with Gwyneth’s Paltrow’s flawless Marge Sherwood, and Johnny Flynn is left dead on the side of the road compared to Jude Law’s portrayal of Dickie Greenleaf, a character he inhabited perfectly as a glitteringly beautiful wealthy and careless bully boy with wealth and privilege running through his veins, straight out of a Fitzgerald novel. Freddie Miles, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman is here played by Eliot Sumner. Why is he played by somebody dressed up like someone from a Dickens adaptation? Sadly, it’s a ploy that falls absolutely flat.

For those unfamiliar, the plot is a good one: a wealthy industrialist hires a con man, Tom Ripley to bring his playboy son, Dickie, back from Italy. But soon Ripley’s fascination with Dickie’s debonair lifestyle turns obsessive as he finds himself enraged by Dickie’s ambivalent affections for Marge, a charming American dilettante, and Ripley begins a deadly game setting off a dark, thrilling chain of events.

Andrew Scott as Ripley (LORENZO SISTI/NETFLIX © 2021)
Andrew Scott as Ripley (LORENZO SISTI/NETFLIX © 2021)

"Tom Ripley is a part of our consciousness," creator Steven Zaillian tells Vanity Fair. "Almost 70 years after Highsmith created him, contemporary figures are still being compared to him. He won’t go away."

Of playing Ripley, Scott says, "I feel like you’re required to love and advocate for your characters, and your job is to go, Why? What’s that? You don’t play the opinions, the previous attitudes that people might have about Tom Ripley. You have to throw all those out, try not to listen to them, and go, ‘Okay, well, I have to have the courage to create our own version and my own understanding of the character.’”

The new series has been written and directed by Steven Zaillian, the Oscar-winning writer of Schindler's List (1993) who also co-wrote and co-directed highly acclaimed series The Night Of (2016).

Adding to intensity of Highsmith's award-winning novel is its glorious backdrop. Italy at the peak of summer; Rome, Venice and the Ligurian Riviera. Zaillian’s motif of characters rushing through the monochrome tunnels of Atrani adds atmosphere.

Zaillian has tweaked the plot here and there, I would argue to not very useful effect. In the original book, Tom weasels his way into Dickie's life by pretending to be an old classmate. In this version it’s highly unclear why Greenleaf senior would hire a Private Investigator to ask Ripley to find his son and bring him home when Ripley doesn’t even claim to know who he is. Freddie Miles’ role is diminished and an Italian conman has been added as a plot device.

The dialogue and the social dynamics and powerplay aren’t as taut with this cast and as a result, is it slow in places? A touch. But it’s an enjoyable watch. Look, you’ll enjoy this series. It’s good.

Ripley is streaming on Netflix from April 5