Real-life inspiration for Netflix's Unbelievable praises series: 'That was closure for me'
The woman who inspired Netflix’s Unbelievable says she feels “closure” after watching the critically acclaimed yet gut-wrenching series, according to one of the reporters who covered her story.
Featuring standout performances from leads Kaitlyn Dever, Merritt Wever, and Toni Collette, Unbelievable tells the true story of Marie (Dever), a survivor of sexual assault who recanted her story after detectives, and even some of those closest to her, cast doubt on her version of the events. Ken Armstrong, who co-wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning piece that Unbelievable is based on, shared his and the real-life Marie’s reactions to the series.
“Two weeks ago I got a call, from Marie. She told me she had just watched the series,” Armstrong wrote. “Watching it was hard, she said. ‘I did cry quite a bit,’ she said. But she had decided she wanted to and was glad that she did. She called the show ‘excellent.'”
In particular, Marie praised Dever’s portrayal of her on the show.
“Marie has told me before that it can be a struggle for her to put her feelings and thoughts into words,” Armstrong said. “In that scene, she said, Kaitlyn Dever captured her struggle. ‘It was, like, perfect,’ she said.”
And seeing her experience up close, Marie was also able to process her emotions in a way she hadn’t been able to before.
While the series’ first episode focuses entirely on Marie’s ordeal, subsequent installments introduced a timeline three years later during the investigation into a serial rapist. Through the dogged efforts of Det. Karen Duvall (Wever), Det. Grace Rasmussen (Collette), and other officers, the rapist was eventually captured, and evidence in his possession at the time of his arrest proved Marie had been one of his victims.
“Watching the last episode, watching the re-creation of the Colorado detectives closing in, provided Marie something she didn’t expect,” Armstrong wrote. “Seeing him get put away, that was closure for me,’ she said.”
Armstrong seconded Marie’s praise for Dever’s performance, saying that the actress got to the core of what Marie’s character was about. “She didn’t fret over mannerisms or accent. She concentrated on emotion. On state of mind,” he said.
He also honed in on the details shown in the series, specifically the scene where Marie goes to the hospital after reporting her rape.
“The scene is clinical, unadorned…and powerful,” he wrote. “Susannah Grant, the series’ showrunner, wanted to capture how an investigation can become its own form of trauma. To do that, she let the facts speak for themselves.”
The journalist served as a consultant on the show, along with the co-writer of the piece, T. Christian Miller. Armstrong admitted that he was “concerned” about a Hollywood adaptation of the story, as he felt “protective” over the story. But his worries were put to rest as he came to learn that Unbelievable’s cast and crew “were protective of the story, too.” On the show, they conveyed all the essential things he wanted to say with Marie’s journey
He explained, “The lessons were all there: The misconceptions about trauma … The confrontational tactics misused by the police in Washington … The triumph of police teamwork in Colorado.”
Critics have applauded the series for its handling of sexual assault and the harrowing investigation headed by characters played by Wever and Collette. EW’s Kristen Baldwin writes that Unbelievable excels as both a true-crime drama, and “as an examination of the gap between the male and female experience.”