Southcliffe review – Episode Three – Channel 4

Southcliffe-Channel-4-Rory-Kinnear‘We laughed at him,’ Paul said at the start of episode three. ‘Treated him like a joke. He’s not funny now is he?’ It was some bold dialogue to open a strong hour that returned the show to form after the very slow second episode.

Half of episode three focused on David Whitehead, the reporter who used to live in Southcliffe, whose father was killed in a disaster at the town power plant when he was a child. The plant owners and local residents used his father as a scapegoat for the ensuing deaths and, as a result, David has a barely concealed contempt for the town, and is cynical in general, with a misanthropic bent.

After some stunning scenes of David and his producer standing on the foggy marshes, the two went off to interview town residents, blagging their way past the world’s least inquisitive policeman in order to interview Stephen’s neighbour. The common theme emerging from David’s interviews was a lack of awareness anyone had about Stephen and his murderous potential. ‘He lives next door to you and you know nothing?’ David asked Stephen’s neighbour, and he expressed similar sentiment to Andrew, Hannah’s father, a childhood friend. ‘It’s a close-knit community,’ Andrew said. ‘Like it was when my dad died?’ David asked.

David refused to buy into the old, comforting clichés spoken after horrible events. As the Radio Times put it in their review: ‘When a neighbour of Morton’s uses that dusty old cliché, ‘he kept himself to himself,’ an angry Whitehead sees only lazy thinking and stupidity.’ Asked to do a live report from the town square, David openly mocked the standard journalistic narrative in the aftermath of shootings. ‘Good folk,’ he spat, before criticising the town and having his report cut off. ‘I’m telling the truth,’ he said afterwards. ‘Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?’

In the pub afterwards he gave a powerful speech that fused brutal truth telling with gross misanthropy. ‘Good white folk. Team GB!.. I’d have pulled the trigger myself; wiped the whole fucking lot of you of the face of the earth.’ David fled the town, with his rant being uploaded online, and returned home.

Southcliffe Channel 4 Episode ThreeThe rest of the episode followed Paul the barman as he struggled to cope with his loss and a lot of the hour focused on the strange ways people deal with death. Paul asked for no black at his wife’s funeral, and Hannah’s father happily asked David to accompany him when visiting his daughter in the morgue. It was a little contrived at times though, especially the latter example; a way to get the reporter into the room and make him witness the disturbing scene.

I wasn’t as engaged in the scenes with Paul as I was with those focusing on David. I’m not that interested in seeing how the characters cope with loss. Lots of TV shows have covered this ground; the interesting thing about Southcliffe is the shooting, the motivations, the reasons, the reporter’s exploration of all this. People coping with death is an unnecessary distraction into something examined many times before.

That said, Paul’s storyline grew on me, in large part due to Anatol Yusef’s acting. After the funeral, Paul splashed his house with something flammable, before picking his niece up from school and taking her to the railway tracks, presumably with the intention of committing suicide. Completely isolated by his own reckless behaviour, both past and present, he drove himself to a road bridge, and in a tough to watch conclusion, ran towards the bridge and vaulted the railings.

It was a good episode, with outstanding acting from Rory Kinnear and Anatol Yusef. I’m not sure what’s left to explore in the concluding episode, plot points aside, but I said the same last week and was wrong so I’m looking forward to the finale.

Random notes:

  • The directing and camerawork was again very good, from the opening shots on the marshes, to the scene, filmed from inside the house, of Paul getting something from the garden shed to set the house on fire. Best was the concluding powerful scene of Paul leaving his car singing, with the hand-held camera following his run to the railings.
  • The episode really benefited from building up the character of Paul last week. I don’t think that completely invalidates my criticisms of that episode though.
  • The old policeman alleging a conspiracy was a weird part. I’d rather the show didn’t go off in that fantastical direction, but this Radio Times preview of the next episode suggests it might be (minor spoilers within that link).
  • David’s story about The Striders, the monsters he as a child believed stalked the marshes, could make a decent horror film.

Southcliffe Reviews: Episode One, Episode Two, Episode Four


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