Southcliffe, the new four-part drama written by Tony Grisoni and directed by Sean Durkin, started on Channel 4 in the UK last night. Set in the fictional town of the same name (although filmed in Faversham, Kent), it saw the unfurling tale of a spree killing that devastated the small community, and how that community reacts to it.
The pre-credits sequence set the very bleak tone for this exploration of grief and loss. The camera hovered on shots of a grey, misty morning in the English countryside. We saw a woman digging in her front garden, only to hear a bang, and find to her disbelief that she has been shot in the abdomen. Some lingering shots of the quiet, grey market-town high street, still slumbering in the early hours of the morning. We cut to darkness, and Rory Kinnear playing David Whitehead, a journalist of national standing who had grown up in the community, and had returned to cover the shootings. To the live newsfeed camera he said “Southcliffe: a sleepy little English market town. A close knit, law-abiding community… That’s what it says on your television. Is that what you think you are? That isn’t what I remember, and that isn’t what I see now.”
THAT was the opening three minutes. Midsomer Murders this is not.
The first episode largely followed Stephen, known to the community as The Commander, through his grim day-to-day existence, looking after his elderly mother, doing odd jobs for neighbour Paul (Anatol Yusef) and being quietly derided by locals. Joe Dempsie (Skins, Game of Thrones) plays Chris Cooper, a squaddie returned home from active duty, who begins to befriend Stephen, having been told he was an ex-member of SAS. The relationship between the two is explored until we see it eventually reach it’s grim breaking point.
Stephen is played with repressed menace by the brilliant Sean Harris, (who stills wins my vote for “most disturbing villain ever” for his role as the drug-dealer Stretch in Harry Brown), who it could be argued has been somewhat typecast as yet another unhinged character. However, when he plays them this well why wouldn’t you typecast him?
Southcliffe has been crafted lovingly, with every scene adding to the air of disquiet and tension within the small community. There is a distinctly art-house feel to the series- the camera can linger for 10 seconds on some floral wall paper, with a soundtrack of silence, while action is carrying on in the room next door. Indeed minutes can pass in complete silence, with the viewer left to take in the unremitting bleakness of it all. Southcliffe has far more in common with the grim reality in the work of Shane Meadows than the more accessible (although not exactly happy-fun-times) fellow-place-name-title dramas. It even makes Broadchurch look like Blackadder.
The second episode is on Channel 4 tonight (5th August) at 9pm. I will be watching, but will have episodes of Father Ted prepped to watch in it’s wake.
You can also catch up on 4OD.