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Documentary Filmmakers Who Made 'The Staircase' Feel ‘Betrayed’ By New Series

Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, who directed the documentary series "The Staircase," is unhappy with the way certain elements are portrayed in HBO's new dramatized series starring Colin Firth.

By Gina Tron
French writer, director and producer Jean-Xavier de Lestrade

The documentary filmmakers behind “The Staircase” are not thrilled with the new dramatized version of the case.  

French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade has stated that he feels “betrayed” by the new HBO Max series of the same name, helmed by Antonio Campos.

"We gave [Campos] all the access he wanted, and I really trusted the man,” de Lestrade told Vanity Fair. “So that's why today I'm very uncomfortable, because I feel that I've been betrayed in a way."

The dramatized series tells the story of Michael Peterson who was convicted of murder in his wife Kathleen Peterson's 2001 death. De Lestrade and his crew began filming Peterson and his family shortly after he was indicted in the case in North Carolina. The original docuseries began airing in 2004, a year after Peterson’s conviction. De Lestrade — portrayed by Vincent Vermignon in the new HBO Max series — and his crew resumed filming Peterson and his family in 2012 and 2013, as Peterson and his defense team fought to overturn his conviction. 

The documentary series won a Peabody in 2005 and has long been hailed for its meticulous documentation, and for leaving viewers pondering Peterson's guilt or innocence.  

“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,” de Lestrade said. “And I never asked to watch the episodes before they were shown because I was quite confident.”

De Lestrade seems to take the most issue with episode 5 of the new series which suggested that Sophie Brunet, who edited the documentary, began an affair with Peterson while filming was still going on. De Lestrade told L'Express, a French newsweekly, in 2018 that the two did fall in love and have a relationship that spanned a decade. Brunet told Vanity Fair that their affair did not begin until after the initial filming had concluded.

“My relationship with Michael never affected my editing,” Brunet stated. “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.

Allyson Luchak, producer of the documentary, told the outlet that "to malign or discredit our filmmaking by making it seem as though we were biased from the beginning is insulting and professionally damaging".

Campos and HBO Max have not responded publicly to the complaints.