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Is Andrew Scott Really the Talented Mr. Ripley?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Mt Holyoke chapter.

Warning: This article contains some spoilers for the first half of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley and its adaptations, as well as mentions of murder.

One of my favorite movies of all time is the 1999 adaptation of one of my favorite books of all time, Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley. The book and film both follow grifter Tom Ripley when he goes to Italy to convince Dickie Greenleaf to return home after Dickie’s father believes Tom to have been his friend. Tom goes to Italy for the money, but finds himself obsessed with Dickie, leading to him murdering him and stealing his identity.

Netflix recently released season one of Ripley, which follows the same book, with the intention of subsequent seasons following the other books of the Ripliad. Andrew Scott (All of Us Strangers, Fleabag) stars as Tom Ripley with Johnny Flynn (One Life, EMMA.) as Dickie and Dakota Fanning (Man on Fire, War of the Worlds) as his girlfriend Marge Sherwood. It was created, adapted, and directed by Steven Zaillian, screenwriter of films such as Schindler’s List, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Irishman, and All the King’s Men, the final of which he also directed. Just those four are an exciting group of people—I was particularly excited about Scott and Zaillian—that I was looking forward to making one of my favorite novels into a series, which it suited quite well.

But let’s get into the actual show. It is shot in a noir-style black and white that is genuinely the most stunning show I have ever seen. The visual motifs are also very strong, with Ripley’s cunning work frequently compared to the masterful Caravaggio, with the light and dark contrast of the camera also mirroring the paintings and sculptures. I also quite like the use of seagulls against a white sky looking like crows flying, which is especially impactful at various points after Dickie’s murder. The numerous shots through doorframes and out from under tables add to the feeling of Tom being watched, especially when we are peering over the bloodstained bathtub as he is questioned by the police. We are what Tom is paranoid about. The screenplay is also good, as are most of the actors, though the only things that really make it stand out are the visuals, from the cinematography to the production design to the gorgeous Italian streets, with the black and white adding to it rather than making things feel duller. The whole vibe of the show is much darker than that of the movie, which is deeply unsettling, but the show is also fun in a lot of moments, until it’s really, really not.

The show tries to be a more faithful adaptation than the 1999 film, which is exciting. As I said, I love the movie, but there is always something wonderful about a well-done faithful adaptation. The problem with this is that in its faithfulness, every digression is very noticeable, and most of them make little sense. The biggest example is that Marge is Dickie’s girlfriend. This makes a lot of sense in the movie, but I don’t understand why the show does the same thing. The uncertainty of their relationship followed by it turning romantic is one of Ripley’s main motivators to kill Dickie as it is one of the things that he feels betrayed by. If Marge is already dating Dickie, the moment of betrayal when Tom finds out is simply not there, a moment which was a major turning point in the book.

One scene that is a major moment in the book, film, and show is the moment when Tom wears Dickie’s clothing and impersonates him in the mirror. In the film, there is no real dialogue, just singing along to music. In the book, the scene drags on for a long time and it truly makes your skin crawl. Tom not only impersonates Dickie, but pretends to reject and then murder Marge, refuting an imaginary accusation that the Dickie and Tom are lovers. Both are ended by Dickie coming in and asking “What are you doing?” The show seems to want to be more true to the book, having Tom enact breaking up with Marge, but it lacks the murder. While this moment in the book is deeply disturbing, the show is clearly leaning into a more disturbing angle than the movie and the pretending to murder Marge would fit right into the tone. While it feels natural to not include it in the movie, it really added to Tom’s characterization in the book and I missed it when watching an adaptation that was presenting itself as more faithful.

There was also a frankly unnecessary sequence of Tom nearly drowning from falling off of the boat after killing Dickie. It was more high-energy than the actual murder scene and dragged on for far too long. That scene is perfectly representative of most of my problems with the show: what Zaillian chose to emphasize. Some characters seemed to have THE IMPORTANT THING ABOUT THEM and other character traits were flat-out ignored, particularly smaller parts like Freddie, though it unfortunately transferred into the leads on occasion, particularly Marge.

Visual emphases on the motifs of water and Caravaggio were effective, but some scenes would drag on for a long time. There’s a difference between “slow” and “tedious” and this show occasionally went a little too close to “tedious,” though I will say that these are typically the moments that demonstrate the chilling apathy of Scott’s Tom Ripley. I wanted these moments to end and go on forever. Scott is able to do so much in the silence and he along with the cinematography make the moments both hard to watch and impossible to look away from. How can moments be both tedious and riveting? I both wish that they were gone and wish that there had been a whole episode of Andrew Scott in complete silence. The problem was typically the timing—this would be interesting, but he just committed murder. I don’t care about the boat. I know that Tom isn’t about to die, we’re not even halfway through the season.

The characters can feel like shells of themselves at times. They seem to know that they live in a black-and-white Italy. Marge is reduced to the simple character trait of “doesn’t like Tom” and Fanning plays her like someone who has taken a single semester of Acting I. Flynn’s Dickie is good, but it’s impossible to stop comparing him to the masterful and charismatic performance by Jude Law in 1999. And then there’s Andrew Scott’s mostly critically acclaimed Tom Ripley.

Andrew Scott is doing a tremendous job at what he’s doing. He’s terrifying and mesmerizing at the same time. But the problem is that his Tom has no charisma. I can’t watch him and say “I would let this man live in my house.” I especially can’t imagine letting him live in my house after he put on my clothes in my room and impersonated me in my mirror. The show makes a point of Dickie’s naivety, but there’s a point when I’m practically screaming at him to listen to his girlfriend and kick Tom out of the house. Where’s Tom’s one-man show? Where’s his funny way of telling stories? Why on earth does Dickie like him?

The thing that makes me sad is that I know that Andrew Scott could have done a book-accurate Tom Ripley justice, and a book-accurate Tom Ripley is the only way that a mostly faithful show could possibly work. The quieter, more genuine scenes hit home much better than any social interaction that was supposed to be positive or convincingly charming. None of the acting choices that I disagreed with happened in the final episode, however. Fanning was suddenly believable and Scott’s Ripley was perfect. I wish that this energy had translated prior to the final episode.

Zaillian being director, screenwriter, and producer is what truly hurt the show in the end. It feels like it was all his ideas and nobody to edit, meaning that every idea that made little sense was kept in. I am of the general opinion that, if the director is the screenwriter, there needs to be another screenwriter, or at least a different producer. This is just Zaillian. It feels like Zaillian’s project where he has certain views of the characters and the actors did those. Tom Ripley, one of the most fascinating characters in 20th-century literature, regularly falls flat despite being played by one of the best currently working actors in film and television. Seeing the credits ending with Zaillian’s name over and over gives the vibe of a passion project more than it does a fully realized show. There is so much potential there—both Scott and Zaillian are very talented people—and it is being squandered by the lack of creative diversity on the storytelling side. I want to love it, but I just like it, which is somehow worse than hating it. I want to have a strong opinion on an adaptation of one of my favorite novels, but aside from the visuals and some of Scott’s acting choices, no daring choices were made until episode eight. There are eight episodes.

So… do I like Ripley? Despite all of my criticisms, yes. Do I hope that this show gets renewed and we get to see more of the Ripliad adapted? Absolutely. A lot of the show was quite good. I’ve recommended it to multiple people and would watch it again with them. I hope that it gets better when Scott is acting alongside different actors and there isn’t a masterpiece of a film hanging over it, because no matter how hard you try, it’s hard not to think of the 1999 adaptation when watching Ripley. I will say one thing, though: Mr. Scott is certainly talented, but I am left wondering:

Is he Mr. Ripley?

Emma Platt

Mt Holyoke '26

Hi! My name is Emma and I'm a sophomore at Mount Holyoke College majoring in Film, Media, Theater and English. I love writing about style, the performing arts, film, and literature. You can usually find me in the theatre or taking a walk while listening to music or an audiobook. When at home in Rhode Island, you can add watching TV or playing board games to that list, often accompanied by a cat or two.