The four-episode series is a vast departure from the 1992 film Damage — also based on the Hart novel, starring Jeremy Irons and Juliette Binoche. While the film focuses on the romantic element of the two’s relationship, often framing the two as a tragic, even star-crossed, couple, the series leans further into Hart’s original intentions behind Damage. There is nothing healthy or functional about William and Anna’s relationship; they are both obsessive, as the series title implies. It’s less about the damage that they do to their lives and more about how much their obsession ruins them, and yet they can’t stay away from it.
Written by playwright Morgan Lloyd-Malcolm alongside Benji Walters, the series is far more progressive when it comes to the sex between Anna and William. While it is still torrid and steamy, the two also engage in a sexual relationship with BDSM undertones, which actually compliments their complicated relationship and power dynamic. In the film and novel, Anna is a bit of a cipher, a mysterious and lovely figure that exists solely as the object of the William character’s sexual obsession. In the Netflix series, her motivations and her own draw to William are explained. The exploration into her own private past and the exploration of her relationship with her family are given more room to breathe.
Directed by Glenn Leyburn and Lisa Barros D’Sa, one of the standouts in this series is how it approaches sex. There’s a raw dynamism to Anna and William’s sex scenes together, it’s not just about enjoying the act, it’s total indulgence and surrender. The clear lines drawn in the relationship when Anna and William enter into a BDSM dynamic are rarely seen and handled with more care than other stories on the subject (looking at you, 50 Shades). However, the element of obsession muddies the waters. There is no abuse or danger in their sex; in fact, that seems to be the moments when they are the most honest with each other about who they are, but as the dynamics shift, William’s infatuation with Anna becomes crippling.
On the flip side of their affair is their victims. Varma’s Ingrid gets a revamping from the adaptation. There’s no loveless aspect to their marriage; when we first meet William and Ingrid, the two seem to have a very healthy marriage. They’re sexually active, and she’s self-sufficient, self-assured, and a great match for William. The tragedy that she experiences is the same, but the packaging of Ingrid’s character makes her much more formidable. Varma is, as always, stunning to watch on screen from beginning to end.
Performance-wise, Armitage and Murphy are a perfect match for the doomed couple. Armitage portrays William with all the desperate neediness of a drug addict. He’s barely holding on when he’s in the presence of Anna, in desperate need of a fix. There’s a kind of unhinged vulnerability that he exposes that makes the character sympathetic while also sadly pitiful. Meanwhile, Murphy excels at playing the enigmatic Anna, who shows more of herself in this story than in any other iteration. When she cracks open the hard exterior, there is a damaged and complicated woman inside who is trying to seek redemption and peace but is swept away by her own destructive nature.
Obviously, Armitage and Murphy are two attractive actors, but they manage to portray more than just a sexy romp in their love scenes together — there is an entire dialogue at play in just their actions. The two characters explore a kind of sexual creativity and experimentalism that feels original even in a contemporary landscape. Obsession is definitely one of the steamiest projects to come out so far this year, but it also doesn’t shy away from both the ugly and honest aspects of the affair.
While the chaotic and dangerous nature of the affair is easily the most delicious aspect of Obsession, the place where it falters is in its third act. After a momentous twist, the story struggles to unravel in a satisfying way. Perhaps that’s its intention, as the original novel ending is also a bit ambiguous, but the door is left a bit too open in the final moments. We aren’t given a deep enough look into Anna, who is easily the most interesting character of the series. Given that she breaks through the stereotypes of “homewrecker,” it’s disappointing when we don’t get a more concrete ending for her. Despite a weaker conclusion, Obsession is still a top-tier erotic thriller. It combines the intense physicality of a dangerous relationship with the constant tension that is so vital to a thriller. As a short four-episode series, Obsession is a twisted and tantalizing story that is sure to intrigue all those who enjoy this unique genre.
Obsession premieres April 13 on Netflix.