2013, TV

Southcliffe (2013)

Well someone really hates British small towns…

At least up until its final episode, this is the best directed piece of British TV I have ever seen. There’s an artfulness and purpose to the shots in the early episodes that is movie quality. And that’s not to say that current British TV is poorly directed, it’s just it’s clear that this guy knows what he’s doing. It was then absolutely no surprise to find out that he was a good filmmaker – this is the man behind Martha Marcy May Marlene which, if you haven’t seen… well, you should get on that. Durkin brings a touch rarely seen in British TV.

The performances are also uniformly strong and their are moments of great emotional power and pathos.

The thing that keeps me from absolutely raving about this as the best piece of British television I have ever seen is the final episode – pretty much, anyway. The non-linear narrative – and the repetition of key moments, as if we were reading a poem – almost disappears entirely from the finale. And I struggle to see what the “One year later” thing adds to the show. There’s curious, contrived plotting that doesn’t really help us any. Sure, we understand that everyone is very upset. But we knew that already. And the attempts at closure (or other such things) by some of the main characters feel forced. That they are presented far more traditionally than the rest of the show also weakens their impact in my mind.

But otherwise this is a pretty outstanding program full of strong performances and a willingness to treat such a terrible tragedy in a human and realistic way. I grew up in a big city so I cannot speak to what it is like to grow up in a claustrophobic small town, and perhaps they take that a little too far – the shooting is, for example, barely connected to what was the more likely cause, military service – but I don’t think that weakens the performances or the artful way in which 75% of the show is presented.


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