Baby Reindeer


Brutally Brilliant

Main Cast: Richard Gadd, Jessica Gunning

Created By: Richard Gadd

Baby Reindeer was an unexpected experience. I read the brief synopsis—the true story of a man with a stalker—and thought I knew what the limited series was about. I was not prepared for the layers upon layers of unflinching honesty from characters that made my heart weep.

On the surface, Baby Reindeer is indeed about a man and his stalker. Richard Gadd stars as Donny Dunn, an aspiring comedian who works a day job in a pub in London. On an otherwise ordinary day, a woman (Jessica Gunning) comes into the pub, very upset, and Donny offers her a cup of tea on the house.

This simple gesture sparks a sequence of events that change every part of Donny’s life.

Based on Richard Gadd’s autobiographical one-man stage play, Baby Reindeer is brutal, beautiful, and haunting in a way that few productions achieve. Donny and Martha’s victim/stalker story is not one you’ve heard before and it’s not one you’ll forget.

Front and center is Gadd’s bravery in telling—and filming—an extremely personal, traumatic story. Donny’s behavior is questionable and erratic and Gadd allows us to feel the discomfort of doubting our protagonist. Then he slowly, ruthlessly, peels away the protective layers covering his own pain. It’s a fantastic performance.

Jessica Gunning is extraordinary as Martha. The unpredictability of this character’s behavior combined with Gunning’s incredible intensity makes Martha at turns scary, sympathetic, and heartbreaking. She was great in The Outlaws, but this is an entirely different level.

There is a very human complexity to this stalker/victim relationship. These are two deeply troubled people whose combined damage is dark and explosive. The crushing shame and confusion Donny feels as a survivor of sexual violence ripples through his life, poisoning his relationships and distorting his reality.  

Baby Reindeer also walks that impossibly fine line between comedy and drama. There is enough comic relief, usually brief and sometimes cringe-y, to make it absolutely compelling. We’re deeply invested in the characters and story before the more graphic details emerge.

I am generally a skeptic of memoirs and “based on real events” TV and movies. Too often there are heroes and villains, not people, and the finished product rings false. Baby Reindeer is the remarkable exception to this rule.

Gadd never shies from his own weaknesses and never underplays the strength of those around him, even when he is unable to accept it. He and Gunning are surrounded by a terrific supporting cast. Nava Mau stands out for giving her character a level of emotional depth equivalent to the leads.

Baby Reindeer is a deep, funny, raw exploration of trauma, healing, and vulerability. I will be shocked (and dismayed) if we don’t see this title all over next year’s awards season. It is streaming on Netflix.

**Be warned that Baby Reindeer may be difficult for some viewers. There are content warnings at the beginning of every episode. Don’t ignore them, particularly episode four.**

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