Yellowstone premiered its fifth season on Sunday night, and continued its trend of rising viewership as the show rolls on. I’ve already made the case that this show is popular, one of the biggest on TV, we just don’t talk about it because we don’t engage with it the same way we do shows like Succession and Game of Thrones (House of the Dragon inclusive). Generally, that’s okay. Not every show has to be a meme-generator. Some things we can just like in real time and space and not drag into the digital hellscape of the internet. But the downside of that is that Kelly Reilly is not getting her flowers for her outrageously good performance as Beth Dutton, the only daughter of series patriarch John Dutton (played by a salty Kevin Costner).
You might recognize Reilly, a British actress, as the languishingly mean Miss Bingley in the 2005 Pride & Prejudice. Or maybe you know her as Mary Morstan in the RDJ Sherlock Holmes movies. Or perhaps you caught her in the second, worst, season of True Detective. I first clocked Reilly in P&P because she was just. SO. MEAN. It’s not a secret that Caroline Bingley is a b-tch, but Reilly plays her with such RELISH, it made a huge impression on me at the time. From then on, I noticed whenever she popped up, such as in John Michael McDonagh’s superb, heartbreaking Calvary, or in the vastly underappreciated 2013 Sam Rockwell backwoods thriller, A Single Shot. Yellowstone feels like a major breakthrough for Reilly, a That Gal character actor who knocked around Hollywood enough to make an impression but never got her starring role (not unlike David Harbour finally getting his own slice in Stranger Things).
Beth Dutton is a gift to an actor like Reilly. She can do pretty much anything asked of her, from period pieces to horror films (Eden Lake is low-rent trash but between Reilly, Michael Fassbender, and Jack O’Connell, they at least make an entertaining survivalist horror), and everything in between, but Reilly EXCELS at playing b-tches. She is a top-notch cinematic mean girl, and Reilly plays Beth with the palpable glee of an actor loving every second of her role. Beth Dutton is a complex character. A horrid b-tch, yes, but also a woman deeply scarred by a singular life event—scars that Beth comes to take on the outside as she is seriously injured several times throughout the show (so far).
Similar to Succession’s Shiv, Beth is the lone daughter in a competitive family; unlike Shiv, she is the apple of her father’s eye. When John Dutton says Beth disappointed him, you feel it, and it’s more due to the look on Beth’s face than anything Costner is doing in the scene.
But while Beth has plenty of dramatic moments—and some romantic ones, thanks to her on-off relationship with her childhood sweetheart, Rip—she is best in b-tch mode. There is nothing like Beth Dutton on a tear, and whoever is in charge of Yellowstone’s social media presence is aware of that, because there is a “Best of Beth” compilation that rates over 30 minutes. Beth schemes, and connives, and occasionally pines, but what she does best is eviscerate men in 90 seconds or less. I think Taylor Sheridan wrote the character of Roarke (Josh Holloway) solely to give Beth a reason to constantly flay him with her words.
Kelly Reilly is having the time of her life playing Beth Dutton. I want everyone to know that. She’s a great actress who finally got a great role worthy of her best b-tch talents, and you can feel her joy in her work with every decimating word out of Beth’s mouth. Reilly can deliver a line with such delicacy you’re reminded for a moment of Beth’s humanity; she can purse her lips and convey a lifetime’s worth of threat; but Reilly is at her best as an actor when Beth is absolutely laying waste to whatever drip just got in her way. Kelly Reilly is playing the best b-tch on TV, and I love that for her.