This story of fraud and excess is a glamorous wild ride, but it’s a lot more complex than the swanky locations and flashy cinematography suggest. A little too long at nine episodes, it pulls you along nonetheless, powered by a terrific central performance from Julia Garner and clever storytelling. You may not like many of the people on screen here, but you’ll certainly find them compelling.
Julia Garner is superb as the cold, calculating Anna Delvey
Shonda Rhimes’ fizzy, upbeat style works well
Clever structure avoids vast information dumps
Engaging despite fundamentally dislikeable characters
Pace dips quite a bit at times over nine episodes
The episodes are long, most pushing past an hour
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After showrunner supreme Shonda Rhimes’ Netflix debut, Bridgerton, broke all kinds of records, her follow-up for the streamer has been eagerly anticipated, and Inventing Anna arrives on Friday (February 11), with all nine episodes dropping on day one.
The series is a retelling of the true story of fraudster Anna Sorokin, a young woman who, posing as Anna Delvey, managed to fool some of New York’s brightest and richest people into thinking she was a wealthy heiress with a fortune of $60 million and plans to set up a charitable foundation.
Before her true identity came to light, she had managed to enjoy, but not pay for, stays in expensive hotels, trips on a private jet, and an awful lot of clothes, drinks and lavish dinners, running up a tab of more than $200,000.
Perhaps inevitably Delvey/Sorokin was eventually exposed, but not before some a good deal of drama.
The process of bringing the story to the screen wasn’t without some dramas of its own, with Sorokin having to go to court to win the right to sell her story to Netflix. If you want to read more about the background to Inventing Anna, and about what became of Sorokin, we’ve gone into more detail in this feature.
But, if you’re wondering if you should dive into this intriguing new drama then you’ve come to the right place – read on for our Inventing Anna review…
Inventing Anna is adapted from Jessica Pressler's 2019 article for New York magazine How Anna (Sorokin) Delvey Tricked New York's Party People.
To tell the story of Delvey/Sorokin’s rise and fall, the nine-parter largely follows Vivian Kent, a fictionalized version of Pressler.
A journalist whose career is in the toilet after a fake news scandal, Kent attempts to resurrect her career by pursuing Sorokin, and trying to piece together the story of how this young woman managed to take so many of New York’s aristocracy for a ride.
We follow Kent as she meets the people Delvey met, befriended and conned, as well as making numerous visits to see Sorokin herself in prison, before the story moves to the courts as the ‘Soho Grifter’, as Delvey came to be known, faces the full force of the law.
Catch me if you can
There’s a rich history of con-men and con-women on screen, and, if you look at all the best-known examples, there’s a key factor they have in common.
From Leonardo DiCaprio’s ever-so-charming Frank Abagnale in Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can to Matt Damon’s troubled Tom Ripley in The Talented Mr Ripley to George Clooney’s Danny Ocean and his band of merry men in the Ocean's trilogy, all these rogues sharey a single, defining quality: you want them to get away with it.
No matter how much money they steal or how dastardly their crimes are, when it looks as though the net is about to close in and the jig is finally up, you’re rooting for them to slip away once more, just so the adventure can continue.
It’s here that Netflix and Shonda Rhimes must have known they had a problem, because Delvey isn’t the least bit charming. In fact she’s quite the opposite: blunt, caustic and icy cold. In fact, the only reason she stood out to hotel staff, some of whom she ended up befriending, was because she was a famously generous tipper.
That icy side did give Delvey one advantage over the con-artists we’ve referenced above in one respect. Whereas DiCaprio’s Abagnale’s grand schemes begin to fall apart when he falls in love, you spend a good portion of Inventing Anna wondering if Delvey has any feelings at all.
Perhaps that’s why Rhimes and her writing team made the decision to tell the story through Kent’s eyes, and as the series develops we spend far more time with Kent than we ever do with Delvey. We meet her husband, with whom she’s expecting her first child, the work colleague who screwed her over, and her colleagues in scriberia, the back corner of the office where out-of-favor journalists are sent to work, and get the inside track on the story that derailed her career.
We only meet Delvey in flashes and flashbacks, in prison visits and in retellings of the key moments in her downfall. Kent’s narrative is straightforward – she wants a story to get her career back on track – but Delvey’s motivation is hard to pin down. Amid all the lavish parties and free-flowing champagne, it’s hard to know if she’s actually enjoying a second of it. Did she just want to be famous? And if so did she care what she became famous for?
The key players
Julia Garner is terrific as Delvey, which is no surprise if you’ve seen her terrifying portrayal of Ruth Langmore in Ozark. She’s glacial and unsettling throughout, while always appearing to be on the verge of a breakdown. Her accent does take some adjusting to, but it’s apparently pretty close to the real thing.
Anna Chlumsky, who many viewers will know from VEEP, is on good form too as journalist Vivian Kent, and he supporting cast are well-chosen, especially Alexis Floyd, who plays Neff, the sparky hotel concierge who may have been Delvey's only true friend, and Succession's Arian Moayed, who plays Todd Spodek, Delvey's lawyer.
It’s easy to see why Shonda Rhimes was attracted to Delvey’s story, and why she was so desperate to get hold of the rights. Her fizzy, upbeat style, married with a soundtrack of pumped up hip-hop and R&B, suits the material. It also helps that the story takes place entirely in glamorous resorts, swanky restaurants and supremely expensive New York hotels. It’s basically Bridgerton set in the 21st century.
The storytelling is clever and the scripts are well-structured, making the best from a story that isn’t naturally suited to a conventional narrative structure. Delvey might have been a clever con-woman, but her lack of charisma and persistent bluntness means you can’t really root for her.
And, nor crucially, do you feel much sympathy for her victims either. This is a world where everyone is on the take, from Delvey’s friends, who were happy to let her foot the bill for expensive meals, to the sleazy finance types who hang off her every word when they’re convinced there’s a $60 million trust fund to look after.
That’s why Kent is so crucial to this drama. We live this story through her eyes, revelation by revelation, setback after setback, meeting the people who Delvey met and took for fools along the way. It results in a strange hybrid, with the idealistic campaigning journalist at the heart of a dark thriller, fearlessly seeking out the truth amid a world of flash hotels and fashion houses. It’s Gossip Girl meets Spotlight, and it does work.
You may not like many of the characters in this saga. You certainly won’t warm to Delvey or to her friends, or even to Kent, who has her own axe to grind, but nevertheless you’ll likely find yourself swept up by the whole thing. And, when an episode ends and the bar begins to count down to the start of the next one, you’ll likely want to keep watching.
Inventing Anna is released on Netflix on February 11.
Tom Goodwyn was formerly TechRadar's Senior Entertainment Editor. He's now a freelancer writing about TV shows, documentaries and movies across streaming services, theaters and beyond. Based in East London, he loves nothing more than spending all day in a movie theater, well, he did before he had two small children…