Based on the popular novel by Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere is a miniseries following the intertwining lives of the wealthy white Richardson family and black mother and daughter, Mia and Pearl Warren, less privileged newcomers to the quaint town of Quaker, Ohio. As the title suggests, Little Fires Everywhere is about accumulation. The fire starts off small. Elaina rents a house to Mia and picking up on her less fortunate means, immediately assumes she is in need of a job working in her house.
This ill-conceived offer sets off a chain of events that threaten to destroy the bond between Mia and Pearl, rupture the Richardsons and echo across the entire town of Quaker Heights.
Playing Elaina Richardson is professional WASP actress Reese Witherspoon, fresh off her turn as Monterey motormouth and queen bee Madeline McKenzie in Big Little Lies. There are certainly miles of crossover between the two characters; headstrong, overbearing, well-to-do liberal white women making misguided attempts at being “sympathetic” to the plights of people of colour. However, across the 8 episode run, Witherspoon admirably fills Elaina with enough nuance that pulls you into the chaos of her character and banishes any thought of Madeline (I’m looking with disdain at Laura Dern winning an Oscar for essentially playing Renata here).
Adding fuel to this fire is the simmering performance of Kerry Washington, best known as wine connoisseur and political problem solver Olivia Pope on Scandal. Mia is secretive, guarded, fiercely protective of her daughter, and unmoved by any notion of charity on Elaina’s part. Each time Witherspoon and Washington share the screen it crackles with unease as Elaina blunders and tries to relate and force a friendship with Mia. These two actresses put in towering performances across the season, that will place Emmy nominations firmly in mind.
The final straw consumed by the flames, and perhaps what the show illustrates best, is motherhood. As Mia’s daughter befriends the Richardson children and becomes entangled in their lives, whilst yearning for the conventional stability they take for granted, Elaina’s youngest daughter, Izzy, finds kinship with Mia due to her fractured relationship with her own mother. Little Fires Everywhere painstakingly portrays the strength as well as the ugliness of motherhood, the notion of self that is sacrificed and to what end. Much more than a simple face-off, Little Fires Everywhere takes a long look at these women and states ‘Let she without sin cast the first stone’.
Little Fires Everywhere is now available on Amazon Prime.