Southcliffe review – Episode Two – Channel 4

Southcliffe Episode OneI said in my review of episode one that Southcliffe had got its pace about right, but this second episode was way too slow. It bordered on boring at times. The episode spent so much time looking at the lives of people we barely seen last episode. And I understand why they did this, to humanise the characters about to experience the shooting, but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable to watch. It was like listening to a really long, cruel joke that you already know the punchline to.

The bulk of episode two followed Paul, the pub landlord who Stephen did some building work for. Paul is a bit of a dick, cheating on his wife and leaving his brother to pay for a family funeral. These scenes felt like I’d accidentally switched channels to a daytime soap. And I imagine that was the point, to give impact to the scene where Paul discovered his family had been killed, but, again, it was still boring to watch.

We also saw some more of David, the reporter who is originally from Southcliffe, where he had an unhappy childhood. It was hinted that there is some link between him and Stephen, and they both certainly seem like loner types; outcasts who were bullied and mocked in Southcliffe. David left the town though, while Stephen stayed, until the final moments of this episode, where he was presumably shot and killed by the police.

Stephen’s only friend in the town was Claire, the woman who helped care for his mother. As with Paul, there was some forced writing designed to humanise her and her family, with little scenes where she discussed her daughter Anna with her husband, or spoke about their attempts at having another child. After receiving Stephen’s distressing phone message, Claire rushed to his house and found his mother dead. There was some back and forth scenes between her and her husband trying to get in touch with Anna, before the inevitable reveal of Stephen shooting Anna.

A lot of the parts leading up to killings seemed manipulative. They were powerful – for instance, the scene of Paul driving home unaware of the shootings as police cars rushed past him – but something about them left me feeling a little exploited. The writer can only pull this trick so many times before you start to see the architecture behind the writing too clearly.

The show is still nice to look at but I didn’t engage with the characters this episode as much as I did with episode one’s Stephen and Chris. It’s a very bold move to completely drop the characters episode one spent building up, and it risks alienating the viewers very early in the show. I’m also not sure that there’s much left for Southcliffe to explore. Shooting sprees are so frustrating and depressing in large part because they leave unanswered questions about why they happen at all, and I’m starting to think that this show will be as frustrating and unresolved as the inexplicable crimes it’s based on.

Random notes:

  • People reluctantly returning to their hometown is an overused trope in film.
  • I wish Channel 4 would have just aired this over consecutive Sunday nights, instead of randomly airing one on a Monday. I really don’t like the television trend for airing new shows with back to back episodes or showing the whole series over one week.
  • Paul the barman is played by Anatol Yusef who you might recognise from Boardwalk Empire, where he is outstanding as Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky.
  • I think I’m right in saying all the music in the show is diegetic – music which can be heard by the characters rather than on the soundtrack – with the (possible) exception of the Shipping Forecast theme at the end of episode one and start of episode two.

Southcliffe Reviews: Episode One, Episode Three, Episode Four

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