Friends close, enemies closer

Published November 19, 2022

The promotional picture from A Friend of the Family featuring the Broberg family

The last episode of the latest true crime dramatisation A Friend of the Family aired this week, and I think it brought to a conclusion an incredible series that has really been well constructed from start to finish.

The series tells the true life tale of the Broberg family - something that has already been covered in a documentary and a podcast, apparently, I have not consumed either of them, this was all new to me. The first episode opened with an on-camera appearance from Jan Broberg, the protagonist of our story, who was kidnapped twice by the same man. I thought this was a bit odd, it’s always useful to know how much contact and influence the real victims have in any retelling, but this was like a seal of approval.

Actually, this Guardian article says it better:

It has an odd effect, possibly counter to the one intended, by implicitly acknowledging the voyeurism inherent in watching (another version of) her extraordinary, baffling story and giving us permission to indulge it. Nevertheless, it may well be that she starts a new trend and it will come to be de rigueur for any fictionalised account of a true story to get someone “real” to gloss it and those that don’t will come to look untrustworthy – even though logic would dictate otherwise.

But nevertheless, the show goes on and it gets good very quickly. Firstly, the cast is incredible. The Broberg family is led by Colin Hanks and Anna Paquin who somehow come across as wilfully naive but equally carefully manipulated by Bob Berchtold, the villain of the piece. Berchtold is played incredibly well by Jake Lacy, who I’ve previously only seen in more friendlier roles. There’s an underlying menace in every moment, even when he’s plastering a smile on his face, and as the series goes on and he gets more desperate, it’s really quite chilling.

A lot of mis-steps were made during the many years that Berchtold preyed on the Brobergs, by the family and by those looking to bring him to justice. And all the while poor Jan was growing up in a world of confusion and shame. It’s ultimately a very sad story, but knowing she reconciled with her family and the updates about what happened afterwards in the final episode leave you feeling at least a little bit hopeful about the spirit of humanity to endure.

The show is glossy, though, with a muted 70s palette, incredible (hideous) costumes and hair, and a soundtrack that has got a couple of brilliant songs completely stuck in my head. It’s a wonderful production of a terrible story that leaves you with plenty to think about. Well done all.

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