Sunday, 21 December 2014

Haven't seen The Fall? Make sure you see it soon...

Compelling stuff, the first season of The Fall. It stars Gillian Anderson, playing an Englishwoman – again. She was excellent as a Dickensian heroine in Bleak House, and outstanding now as a senior detective from the Metropolitan Police in London.

In The Fall, she’s in Belfast to help the Police Service of Northern Ireland track down the ritualistic murderer of a woman, and quickly establishes that his offence was not a one-off but part of a series that will extend throughout the first season.

In passing, I should say that it doesn’t do any false realism. Gillian Anderson’s character is very Gillian Anderson, with a lot of high heels and plenty of silk. Not quite the way of life one associates with the Met – Helen Mirren, as Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect, she certainly isn’t. But the role as written, Anderson plays remarkably well. 

The rest of cast is excellent too, most notably Jamie Dornan as the murderer.

For fans of The Good Wife, it’s also a pleasure to see Archie Panjabi again. In the American series, her bisexuality is a key element of the character, and it’s amusing to see the theme touched on (in season 2), with nothing like the same results, by the BBC.

The five episodes of the first season of The Fall, for which Flemish director Jakob Verbruggen was in charge, build an atmosphere of tension and growing horror and, to do that, use some lovingly (and painfully) detailed filming of fiendish and monstrous brutality. Since we know who the perpetrator is, there’s no suspense over his identity. Instead, it has to be conjured up by concern over how many crimes he will commit, and how horrific they will be. As a result, there’s nothing gratuitous about the violence, since the series requires the intensity, but it still needs a certain firmness of stomach to watch it.

Jamie Dornan, as the perpetrator, pacing behind his
hunter, Gillian Anderson, in The Fall
For season 2, the BBC handed over the direction to Alan Cubitt. An extraordinary transformation takes place: out go the scenes of killing and with them, most of the remaining traces of what normally makes for suspense (though there is a question mark to worry us over the fate of an abducted woman). In a paradoxical way, it’s the opposite of suspense that gives the season its tension: it’s knowing where we’re heading. As in a Greek tragedy, we know the destination, so it matters less and less; instead we focus on the journey. And quite a journey it is.

Because what is just predictability when it’s badly done, is inevitability when it’s well executed. And that’s season 2 of The Fall: six episodes of a trap slowly closing, the jaws moving unstoppably towards each other on the predator turned prey. It’s like the Oedipus story – you don’t need to be told the ending to know it’s not going to be cheerful. You can sit back and watch in amazement as what you know is going to happen, unfolds before your eyes.

Indeed, with The Fall, you don’t even have to be far into the final, feature-length episode, to know just what the end is going to be and how it’s going to happen. But again, it isn’t where you’re going, it’s how you get there that makes the difference. And the series carries us along with breathtaking skill.

If you haven’t seen it, make a point of seeing it now. Some of the scenes of Season 1 are gruelling, but the series needs them and is well worth getting through them. 

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