‘The Staircase’: HBO Max Series Gets Michael Peterson and Sophie Brunet’s Relationship Totally Wrong

HBO Max’s The Staircase dramatizes Kathleen Peterson’s death and Michael Peterson’s case that followed. Originally the subject of Jean-Xavier de Lestrade docu-series The Staircase, the drama leans into Peterson’s sexuality and relationship with his family amid the legal battle. While many aspects of Peterson’s life are skewed for the sake of storytelling, there’s one part of his story the HBO series blatantly gets wrong. 

Sophie Brunet (Juliette Binoche) visits Michael Peterson (Colin Firth) in HBO Max's 'The Staircase'
Juliette Binoche as Sophie Brunet, Colin Firth as Michael Peterson | HBO Max

Michael Peterson and Sophie Brunet’s relationship 

On Dec. 9, 2001, Kathleen reportedly fell down the stairs to her death. Many presumed Peterson was responsible, as documented in de Lestrade’s Staircase. Sophie Brunet was one of the editors who worked on the docu-series. 

“[Michael and Sophie’s relationship] is one of the incredible things that happened during those 15 years,” director de Lestrade told L’Express. “Life is really full of surprises. They had a real story.” 

According to de Lestrade, Brunet’s relationship with Peterson never impacted her work. Brunet and Peterson’s relationship began when he was in prison — they would write letters to each other and Brunet would send him books. 

HBO Max’s ‘The Staircase’ blurs the timeline of Michael Peterson and Sophie Brunet’s relationship

As de Lestrade, The Staircase’s producer Allyson Luchak, editor Scott Stevenson, and Peterson’s lawyer David S. Rudolf told Vanity Fair, the HBO Max series got one significant aspect of Peterson and Brunet’s relationship incorrect. The drama series makes it seem like Brunet (Juliette Binoche) edited the eight original episodes of the docu-series and that’s when their relationship began.

However, in reality, Brunet and Peterson’s relationship began after she stopped working on the documentary to work on other projects. When more footage surrounding Peterson’s case turned up and the need for more episodes arose, de Lestrade hired two other editors, Stevenson and Jean-Pierre Blocto cut what became eight episodes. 

In 2011, de Lestrade filmed five additional episodes of The Staircase. Brunet edited all of them, three of which she edited after she and Peterson broke up. 

Sophie Brunet addresses her relationship in the fictional version of ‘The Staircase’ 

In an email to Vanity Fair, Brunet clarified the details regarding her relationship with Michael. She wrote: 

Sophie Brunet (Juliette Binoche) sits with a camera in 'The Staircase' on HBO Max
Juliette Binoche as Sophie Brunet | HBO Max

“My relationship with Michael never affected my editing. I never, ever cut anything out that would be damaging for him. I have too big an opinion of my job to be even remotely tempted to do anything like that. And Jean would never let it happen anyway. It is his film and I respect that greatly. 

And again: I had absolutely no dog in the fight for the first eight episodes. As for the following ones, I think one can notice a great empathy for Michael’s family in them. But that was Jean’s point of view as well as mine. Whatever you think or believe about Michael, you can’t deny that the situation for his children was terrible and unfair. As for the last three episodes, I could not possibly be suspected of wanting to favor Michael, since we had broken up before I finished editing.”

Sophie Brunet, Vanity Fair

The Staircase is available to stream on Netflix and HBO Max. 

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