Celeste Wright is beautiful, smart and rich. The former lawyer is married to a gorgeous younger man with whom she has two adorable sons. Outwardly, their home and family life is like she is: picture perfect.
And, yet, the picture is far from perfect.
Celeste is stuck, terrified, in a gilded cage no one else can see, because she is physically and psychologically abused by her husband.
Celeste Wright is a fictional character in Big Little Lies, the HBO television series based on Liane Moriarty’s bestselling book of the same name, but there is nothing fictitious about the scenario in which she is caught.
Which is why the TV series has the potential to do much more than entertain.
Celeste, played by Nicole Kidman, shatters the mistaken assumption that domestic violence only affects people with no money and no education. She pierces a hole through the myth that it is only a problem in certain cultures or certain postcodes. She reveals – for all of us to see – the fear, the self-loathing, the doubt and the shame that abuse creates.
The CEO of Community Women’s Shelters, which provides accommodation for women escaping domestic violence, Annabelle Daniel knows too well how many women have been – and remain - trapped in Celeste’s shoes.
“As a shelter manager at one point, within one cohort, we had a doctor, a lawyer, an optometrist and a concert pianist,” she says. “They were all highly educated, professional women from middle to upper class backgrounds and they had all experienced extreme physical and psychological abuse.”
To the outside world, these women, like Celeste, might not have looked or seemed like they were victims of anything. But, scratch the surface and not everything is as it seems. In fact, Daniel says as a society our perception of domestic violence is often too simplistic.
“We conflate domestic violence with physical abuse but domestic violence isn’t just about physical abuse it’s actually about power and control,” she says. “Emotional, psychological and financial abuse comprise domestic violence too.”
This is made abundantly clear in Big Little Lies.
Daniel says watching someone navigate the power struggle of an abusive relationship on screen has the potential to help a number of women.
“Any kind of awareness of domestic violence - if it’s done sensitively - is very useful even if that’s a depiction in some form of popular culture,” Daniel says.
A television show is classic “water-cooler” subject matter and it can prompt men and women to talk about issues in a way that might otherwise be too close to home.
“It can be much safer to talk about something fictional and in the abstract rather than saying to a colleague ‘I’m actually in this situation’,” she says.
That can plant a seed though that leads on to a significant breakthrough.
“Those conversations can be very useful for people who are considering disclosing violence. They are testing the waters to see who they can trust if they were going to disclose,” Daniel says. “I would encourage people to be sensitive and aware that they might be providing an opportunity for someone to open up.”
As Daniel works with communities to establish new shelters, she has this revealed to her often.
“Every time I speak in a new location I get at least one disclosure of domestic violence and these are in white picket fence areas with well-to-do residents,” she says.
Keep that in mind while you watch Big Little Lies. And if you’re tempted to write Celeste’s situation off as far fetched, remember this. In this instance the truth is far worse than fiction.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, contact 1800 Respect (1800 737 732) for advice and support.