The new show arrives on Netflix this week.
Released in 1975, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is still considered to be one of the greatest American movies ever made: winning five Oscars, still regularly referenced in modern media, and with Nurse Ratched, creating one of the most iconic cinema villains of all time. The actress in that role, Louise Fletcher, went on to win the Best Actress Academy Award for her performance.
The idea of anyone attempting to revisit this particular well would be akin to Hollywood announcing a remake of The Godfather, or giving us a long-delayed sequel to Lawrence Of Arabia. It isn’t something anyone wanted, because what we’ve got is already about as good as it can get.
Jump forward to 2020, and Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story, The People v. OJ Simpson) is executive-producing this prequel, set about fifteen years before the events of that landmark movie, telling the story of how Nurse Ratched (here played by Sarah Paulson) came to run her mental institution with such a cruelly iron fist.
Smartly, instead of trying to emulate the tone and story of Cuckoo, Murphy takes us in a completely different direction, one that is likely to enthral as many viewers as it to enrage.
There is no battle of wits with a sound-minded patient, but instead Ratched is pitched against pretty much everyone, from fellow nurses to crooked politicians to paid assassins, with Murphy giving the whole thing a high-camp gloss that runs through the better seasons of his American Horror Story anthology. The vivid colour scheme and music literally swiped from Hitchcock movies do a fantastic job of setting the show’s own tone, one that oscillates wildly - but intelligently - from nail-biting body horror, to intensely dark comedy, to edge-of-the-seat thriller, to heart-breaking drama.
To give too much of the plot away would be a disservice to the show, but let’s just say that there is a particular patient in this mental hospital that Ratched wants to get to, and she is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve her goal. How the other characters fold in and over her main drive is a compelling watch, with Sarah Paulson a constantly blinding light of on-screen charisma, always delivering several layers of performance to each scene.
Additionally, watching her bounce off some amazing performers - Sharon Stone, Judy Davis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Corey Stoll, Cynthia Nixon, Sophie Okenedo all put in stellar work with smaller roles - is never anything less than sensational.
Cinema snobs will point their noses upwards at the very idea of taking a movie like Cuckoo and turning it into something this entertaining, and while the show is always fun, there is the same issue with a lot of Netflix series in that things sag and bloat a little in the middle before picking up speed for the “See You In Season 2!” ending.
These are minor niggles for a show that you will absolutely devour over a single weekend, and keep an eye on the next awards season: Paulson is going home with her own Best Actress trophies. All episodes of Ratched arrive on Netflix on Friday 18 September, and you can check out the most recent trailer right here: