The Staircase Documentary Filmmakers Feel 'Betrayed' By Inaccuracies In HBO Max Series

The makers of the original 2004 docuseries "The Staircase" — the basis for the current dramatized HBO Max miniseries starring Colin Firth and Toni Colette — are alleging that the miniseries undermines the credibility of their work. "The Staircase" won a Peabody Award in 2005, and reviews for the new miniseries, created by Antonio Campos, have been positive. Both the original docuseries and the miniseries currently hold a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. However, Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, the director of the docuseries, and Sophie Brunet, one of the editors who worked on it, maintain that Campos abused their trust and presents inaccurate depictions in his series.

In "The Staircase" miniseries, Firth stars as Michael Peterson, the real-life crime novelist accused of murdering his wife, Kathleen Peterson, played by Colette. De Lestrade and Brunet are both characters, as well, with Vincent Vermignon and Academy Award winner Juliette Binoche ("The English Patient") playing them, respectively. According to Vanity Fair, de Lestrade granted Campos access to his archives and brought him along for a few days while he and his crew were filming additional episodes for "The Staircase" docuseries in 2011. He received a nominal executive producer credit on the miniseries, but takes issue with its depictions. As he told the magazine:

"We gave [Campos] all the access he wanted, and I really trusted the man. So that's why today I'm very uncomfortable, because I feel that I've been betrayed in a way. ... Because I trust Antonio, I didn't ask him to read the script. I was respecting his liberty as an author, as a creator, as a filmmaker. And I never asked to watch the episodes before they were shown because I was quite confident."

IMDb lists Brunet as an editor on two episodes of the original docuseries, crediting Scott Stevenson as editor on another five, though Brunet would come back and edit new episodes of "The Staircase" in the 2010s.

Brunet's relationship with Peterson

Central to de Lestrade, Brunet, Stevenson, and producer Allyson Luchak's objections are the depiction of Brunet in the fifth upcoming episode of "The Staircase," set to air on Thursday, May 19, 2022. In real life, Brunet became involved in a romantic relationship with Peterson, but she and the other three crew members, as well as Peterson's defense attorney, David Rudolf (played in the miniseries by Michael Stuhlbarg) say that the relationship did not develop until after she had exited the project, leaving Stevenson and Jean-Pierre Bloc to take over as editors. 

By the time Brunet edited the final three episodes, released on Netflix in 2018, she says she and Peterson had broken up. The fifth episode of the miniseries, however, suggests that she was editing while they were together and that she edited all eight of the original docuseries episodes. She told Vanity Fair:

"My relationship with Michael never affected my editing. I never, ever cut anything out that would be damaging for him. I have too big an opinion of my job to be even remotely tempted to do anything like that. And Jean would never let it happen anyway. It is his film and I respect that greatly. And again: I had absolutely no dog in the fight for the first eight episodes. As for the following ones, I think one can notice a great empathy for Michael's family in them. But that was Jean's point of view as well as mine. Whatever you think or believe about Michael, you can't deny that the situation for his children was terrible and unfair. As for the last three episodes, I could not possibly be suspected of wanting to favor Michael, since we had broken up before I finished editing."

Obviously, being romantically involved with your documentary subject presents a conflict of interest, but what further complicates matters is that Brunet opened her own home to the makers of the miniseries, who appear to have taken some artistic license in their dramatization.

"The Staircase" docuseries is currently streaming on Netflix, while "The Staircase" miniseries is now streaming on HBO Max.