‘Ripley’ slowly builds a hypnotic series around the talented Andrew Scott

Moving slowly, indeed almost hypnotically, “Ripley” takes a few episodes to kick in, but once it does there’s no turning back. Adapting the novel that yielded “The Talented Mr. Ripley” a quarter-century ago creates a compelling showcase for Andrew Scott, graduating from his “hot priest” “Fleabag” persona to “creepy grifter” in a way that makes the role associated with Matt Damon completely his own.

Written and directed in its entirety by Steven Zaillian, an accomplished screenwriter whose TV work includes HBO’s “The Night Of,” “Ripley” begins with the shrewd decision to shoot the eight-episode series in glorious black and white, giving the story an old-time feel while still making the Italian locales look enormously inviting.

Set in the early 1960s, the format provides the latitude to luxuriate in uncomfortable moments and build palpable tension around situations in Patricia Highsmith’s books, a sensation that becomes more intense once it’s demonstrated how ruthless Scott’s Tom Ripley can be.

The most fateful encounter comes early on, when a wealthy New Yorker hires Ripley to travel to Italy to lure his playboy son, an aspiring painter named Dickie Greenleaf (Johnny Flynn), to come back home. Living an idyllic life with his girlfriend Marge (Dakota Fanning), Dickie resists the notion but foolishly invites Tom into his orbit.

Marge might be suspicious of Tom’s motivations, but he quickly wins over Dickie despite his occasionally strange behavior. At the same time, one can see the wheels spinning in Tom’s head (Scott does a considerable amount of work strictly with darting eyes and strained expressions) on how to cash in on this opportunity, embarking on a path that will eventually involve fraud, murder, and lies, lies, lies.

Maurizio Lombardi as Inspector Ravini in "Ripley." - Netflix
Maurizio Lombardi as Inspector Ravini in "Ripley." - Netflix

“Eventually” does a lot of work here, because “Ripley” unfolds too slowly – as the trail of events attracts the attention of an Italian detective (Maurizio Lombardi) – while creating the risk that some people will bail out before the series reaches the good stuff. Patience might be a virtue – and it’s rewarded here – but with viewers enjoying so many options, there are limits.

One reason the black and white works so well is in part because pulling off Tom’s deceptions relies heavily on this earlier time, when there were no cellphones to be tracked or email attachments that could ping across the globe. There’s also an inherent class critique in Ripley’s ability to prey upon these privileged expatriates, the proverbial shark among minnows.

Flitting from city to city, “Ripley” relies on Scott, coming off a fine starring role in the indie film “All of Us Strangers,” as the glue to hold everything together, at times going long stretches without dialogue during some of the more riveting interludes. Between that and the subtitles, consider this one of those shows that requires less-divided attention than usual for the two-screen-viewing crowd.

More broadly, the time seems right for a “Ripley” revival, given the splash made by the similarly themed “Saltburn” and the increasingly popular practice of leveraging streaming’s shelf space to flesh out literary works in more expansive ways.

That slow burn won’t be for everyone, but those drawn into “Ripley’s” rhythms should find themselves wolfing down episodes in rapid succession. If they do, give the credit, primarily, to the talented Messrs. Zaillian and Scott.

“Ripley” premieres April 4 on Netflix.

For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at