|Written by||Jean-Xavier de Lestrade|
|Directed by||Jean-Xavier de Lestrade|
|Country of origin||France|
|No. of episodes||13|
|Running time||45 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Maha Productions|
|First shown in||France|
The Staircase (French: Soupçons, lit. ''Suspicions''; also known as Death on the Staircase) is a 2004 French television miniseries by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade documenting the trial of Michael Peterson, convicted of murdering his wife, Kathleen Peterson.
Following from de Lestrade's Oscar-winning Murder on a Sunday Morning, filming began soon after Peterson's indictment. Camera crews were given access to the accused's extended family, the defense attorneys, and the courtroom.
An abbreviated version was broadcast as special two-hour presentation of American news show Primetime Thursday on July 22, 2004. The miniseries was completed in September 2004, and premiered in October on Canal+, from January 10–14, 2005, on BBC Four (as part of its Storyville documentary series), and from April 4–25 on Sundance Channel.
Lestrade returned to film Peterson and his family in 2012-13, covering developments in the case that were released as a two-hour sequel. Three new episodes with further updates were later made for Netflix, and in 2018, the streaming channel added all 13 episodes to its catalog, making it available as one series.
In December 2001, novelist Michael Peterson called to report that his wife Kathleen had fallen down a set of stairs in their Forest Hills mansion and died. The authorities disbelieved Peterson's story that Kathleen had fallen while drunk and concluded instead that he had bludgeoned her to death, most likely with a fireplace poker that was discovered missing from the house. Peterson was soon charged with murder. The film details the ensuing case from the point of view of Peterson and his defense team, led by David Rudolf.
During the trial, it is discovered that while Peterson was living in Germany, a family friend died from an intra-cerebral haemorrhage, followed by the body falling down stairs after collapsing, which resulted in similar head injuries to those sustained by Peterson's wife. An investigation by German police and U.S. military authorities concluded that the death was accidental, and Peterson ended up adopting the woman's two daughters. The prosecution introduce this death into the trial as an incident giving Peterson the idea of how to "fake" Kathleen's accident. During the trial, Peterson's daughters stand steadfastly by their father.
The prosecution argues that Kathleen had discovered that Michael was bisexual and had been having affairs with men, which led to an argument in which he bludgeoned her to death. Peterson claimed that his wife knew about his sexuality and that they had an open marriage. He claims to have been outside by their pool when Kathleen fell down the stairs and injured herself. A defense team re-creation shows that it would have been possible for Peterson to have missed his wife's cries for help had he been by the pool. The jury ultimately convicts Peterson.
Reviews for The Staircase were generally positive. The film received an "exceptional quality" rating (8.5 out of 10) from Documentary-Review.com based on nine reviews. It won a Peabody Award in 2005.
In April 2012, it was revealed that Lestrade was working on a two-hour follow-up film to The Staircase for French broadcaster Canal+, after Michael Peterson was released from jail, pending a retrial. The sequel, subtitled "Last Chance," premiered at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam in November 2012. It aired on Canal+ on January 30, 2013, and on BBC Four's Storyville on February 4. Sundance Channel aired a shorter alternative cut, presenting "Last Chance" as two new episodes of the original miniseries, airing March 4 and March 11, 2013.
On November 23, 2015, Lestrade announced a second follow-up film at the IDFA Forum. Originally announced as Staircase III, the film documents the story of Peterson's final trial, set for early 2016. The film was commissioned by Canal+. Last Chance producer Matthieu Belghiti of What's Up Films was also attached. It was later picked up by Netflix to be released as three new episodes of the miniseries, together with the previous 10 episodes, on June 8, 2018. The first of the new episodes premiered April 28, 2018, at the Tribeca Film Festival.
The 2017 sitcom Trial & Error parodies this documentary and the details of the case.
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- Goodfellow, Melanie (November 25, 2015). "Lestrade steps up" (Portable Document Format). IDFA Industry Special 2015 (4): 1. Retrieved April 14, 2016.
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- Trumbore, Dave (May 22, 2018). "Netflix Continues Your True-Crime Obsession with 'The Staircase' Trailer". Collider. Retrieved May 23, 2018.
- Mount, Bailey (April 25, 2018). "'The Staircase': Everything You Need to Know About the Classic True Crime Series Coming to Netflix — With New Episodes". IndieWire. Retrieved May 23, 2018.