Grow On Screen: ‘The Slap’ Is Reverberating Long After Its Initial Impact
By Sofy Robertson
All 4 has swiftly become the place to look for exciting and challenging television. Following the introduction of Walter Presents in 2016, a section dedicated to championing the best of foreign language drama and comedy, All 4 has become an exciting (and free) alternative to platforms such as Netflix and Now TV.
The Slap (2015-) came to All 4 in August; an eight part mini-series that follows the aftermath of a fortieth birthday party that goes horribly wrong. The tagline “When a man slaps another couple’s misbehaving child, the repercussions ricochet” accurately summarises the premise for the show.
Based on the book of the same name by Australian author, Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap was originally made into an eight-part TV mini-series in Australia. The Australian and American adaptations of the book are very closely linked and I would recommend watching the Aussie original if you can.
Part of what makes The Slap (2015) so clever is its characters. Rather than forming a cast of inherently likeable people, The Slap does the opposite. In a similar vein to recent film offerings like Gone Girl (2014) and A Simple Favour (2018), the characters are unreliable and ultimately flawed. In every episode, the viewer fights an inner battle to identify with the character in focus. That is not to say that a distance is created between character and viewer. Instead, we are presented with flaw after flaw, reveal after reveal that leaves us feeling like the rug is slowly being pulled from beneath us.
In addition to the careful balancing of the characters, the production team has opted for a compelling film noir style for the series. In every episode, there is a short amount of external narrative reminiscent of classic noir films like The Big Sleep (1946). Each episode follows a different character in the aftermath of the slap, unravelling layer upon layer of fantastically constructed fiction. The score incorporates a wonderful amount of jazz which again nods to the film noir genre and gender power struggles are tantamount to the plot.
The American offering of The Slap stars Peter Sarsgaard as Hector, our first protagonist and whose birthday party marks the irrevocable moment of change in his friendship group. Thandie Newton plays his wife, Aisha, a strong and uncompromising female lead. The screen is arguably stolen however by the battle between Harry (Zachary Quinto) and Rosie (Melissa George). Quinto, most well-know for his role as Sylar in Heroes (2006-2010), robustly imbues Harry’s character with Greek arrogance and flair, tracing a fine line between power and tyranny after delivering the slap itself. George deftly plays the wounded, outraged mother of the slapped child, creating a monstrous yet vulnerable maternal character.
With due warning, The Slap is not easy watching, whether you opt for the American or Australian offering. There are challenging themes, including domestic violence, and rather than coming away feeling warm and fuzzy like you might after watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory, The Slap is likely to leave you feeling unsettled, questioning ‘What would you do?’