Steamy summer streaming

Netflix couples that make the Macbeths look tame



As the warmer weather rolls in, Netflix has heated up its pairings of chemistry-laden couples to watch, in both creation and self-destruction.

Two must-sees this season are “The Diplomat” and “Obsession.”

As is typical of a review from me, both storylines take place in England, with a sensitivity to classic British understatement.

“The Diplomat,” from Debora Cahn, who was a writer-producer for “The West Wing” and “Homeland,” will see some of the tropes from her previous work, with the ne’er-too-vain heroine in clunky government-employee black shoes whose personal life has flown of the rails.

Following Kate Wyler, a career diplomat just installed in one of the highest posts as Ambassador to the United Kingdom following a possible terrorist act against the Royal Navy, “The Diplomat”’s splashy cinematography and fast-moving plotline are anchored by the undeniable sparks between Keri Russell (as Kate) and Rufus Sewell (as husband, Hal), both favorites of the early noughties’ teen scene.

Knowing Russell best from her role as insecure valedictorian turned love-struck New York City college student and Sewell as the bad guy in “A Knight’s Tale,” it was similar to watching Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in “Revolutionary Road” as an adult couple with adult problems after knowing them as romantic young figures.

In the opening scene when Russell is packing for an assignment to Kabul, the marriage seems strong and supportive, and continues this way after the life-changing flight to London when a particularly playful scene of Russell’s character asking Sewell to sniff her armpits in a smell test reflects the trust and honesty in their pairing.

After a traumatic—or seemingly traumatic—event, Russell and Sewell cozy up next to each other in bed in a warm, long-standing flame of affection shared between people who truly understand each other’s worth, only to have them split to sleep in different rooms, as they are in the midst of a divorce.

The delicate nature of a crumbling but seemingly solid marriage at its core, is one that hasn’t been portrayed with this sense of both depth and playfulness, and would do well in front of an audience with more mature relationships.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is “Obsession,” which is focused on one of the most taboo pairings: a father with his son’s girlfriend.

In one of the most taut and seductive first meetings, Richard Armitage (who plays preeminent doctor William Garrow) and Charlie Murphy (the femme fatale in a French bob, Anna Barton) say about 20 words to each other, and every single one dripping with euphoric tension about what seems an inevitable bedding.

Unlike the mile-a-minute writing of “The Diplomat,” “Obsession”’s sparse dialogue feels Parisian in nature and hinges on hesitation of a violin bow stroke at an opera house.

Each moment between Armitage and Murphy is carefully orchestrated to deliver maximum freefall when they finally do collide.

Armitage is almost monastic in his devotion to work and never lets on (at least in the opening) that adultery would even be a possibility for him, but Murphy manages to be so domineering in her coquettishness that the straying comes off as a work of God and not a fleeting fancy.

Indira Varma, who plays Armitage’s wife, and who audiences may remember as the eventual leader of Dorne in “Game of Thrones,” is full of life and candor as the trusting wife and involved mother who expresses some reticence over her son’s girlfriend, but remains blindsided to her intentions with her husband.

The order in which you watch these two series (or alternating episodes, like I did) doesn’t really matter, but definitely should be viewed as a double feature.


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