Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Southcliffe: grimly compelling, but you'd be mad to miss it

Moody, brooding, threatening... Southcliffe reminded me a bit of Roman Polanski's Chinatown, infusing menace throughout its location and many of its inhabitants.

Here was a very un-sensational four part story of how a put-upon loner went on a tabloid-baiting shooting spree, killing 15 locals, seemingly out of the blue. One Stephen Morton (Sean Harris) was gently ridiculed (if there is such a thing) by locals and caring for his dementia-suffering mother. After a bizarre encounter with a soldier returning from duty followed by a humiliating reprisal, something snaps within Morton, resulting in those shootings and leaving the community struggling to cope with the loss and aftermath. Speaking of which, one of the journalists descending on the town is one David Whitehead (Rory Kinnear), an ex local who stirs up old memories and creates a scandal of his own...

Looking over the four episodes, there was a lot of story crammed in and to Southcliffe's credit, it didn't go down any traditional storytelling routes – like slowly building up to the shootings, instead jumping around the awful events, before and after, several times in each episode. Having said that, some concessions were made to linearity (definitely a word) with the media circus descending in Southcliffe in episode 3 and the final episode taking the most significantly different tack, moving the action on one year with hardly a flash back to the tragic events.

Some critics have called Southcliffe gruelling, which is fair in places (but then any drama about shootings probably should be), but 'grimly compelling' might be more on the nose, for me. As is standard for this kind of British TV drama, the actors made for compulsive viewing. The Kent town looked interchangeably foreboding and/or beautiful and the writing was unpredictable, eschewing cliches and underplaying any heroics (there were some in episode 4), leaving you guessing what was coming next in spite of the fact the shootings were built into the story right from the very beginning.  

In short, you'd be mad to miss it. It's free to view on 4OD at the moment (UK only I'm afraid).