The Fall Review: “Forget ITV’s Broadchurch, This Is The Next Big Hit”

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The Fall

BBC Two’s new five episode drama series The Fall, arguably one of the most eagerly anticipated new series of 2013, kicks off on RTE One on Sunday May 12th at 9:30pm, BBC Two on Monday May 13th at 9pm and will air on Netflix in the United States from May 28th. The series hails from Prime Suspect scribe Allan Cubitt and production company Artists Studio and features a star studded cast which includes Gillian Anderson (The X-Files), Jamie Dornan (Once Upon A Time), John Lynch (The Jury) and Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife).

The basic story of the series is that of two hunters: a serial killer on the loose in Belfast and the police officer who is tasked with stopping him. The first hunter is a man by the name of Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan); a serial killer who happens to be a grief counsellor by day. The second hunter is Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson). Gibson, an officer from London’s Metropolitan Police Service, is an old acquaintance of PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Jim Burns (John Lynch), who calls her in to do a 28 day review of a murder case which has stalled. While reviewing the case she comes across two cases which she believes are linked and were committed by the same individual and, after convincing Burns of that fact, abandons her review to head the inquiry into the serial killer on the loose in Belfast.

The Fall is not your typical serial killer driven drama. Rather than a procedural, it is a complex, gritty, psychological drama. Almost equal screen time is devoted to Stella Gibson and Paul Spector, as opposed to the norm of merely (or largely) focussing on the police investigation. The result is a rather disturbing drama. Jamie Dornan’s Paul Spector is not a two dimensional character who could be merely categorised as ‘pure evil’. Make no mistake, the character is an evil one, but seeing Spector in both his day job and at home as a husband and father adds a layer of complexity to the character which one does not usually see in such dramas and it really adds to the tension. It also drives home the notion that in these dramas anyone could be a serial killer, and it’s usually the people you least suspect.

The complexity of the drama, and the fact that there has already been comparisons to Prime Suspect, should come as no real surprise when one considers that The Fall comes from the pen of Allan Cubitt (do pens still exist? This writer vaguely recalls them). This is a very well written piece and is one of the few dramas I’ve watched of late that still had me thinking hours after I’d finished viewing all five episodes. Add to that the talents of director Jakob Verbruggen and things just start to fall into place. Verbruggen set up of a number of shots (not just in episode one, but across all five) that are intense & atmospheric and give The Fall a unique visual style, all of which add to the unnerving nature of the drama itself.

The quality of acting talent assembled for The Fall is unparalleled. Gillian Anderson’s performance as Stella Gibson is very well played and goes to her strengths as an actress. The character of Gibson can come off as cold and detached, but you quickly see that this is a way she has found to survive in a sea of dead bodies, in a world of strong men. The character is equal parts maverick, amusing and professional. John Lynch is fantastic in his role as Jim Burns, equal part ally and foil to Gillian Anderson’s Stella Gibson. He is exemplary in this role and the B plot which sees Lynch embroiled in a political drama of sorts truly emphasises his abilities as an actor.

Archie Panjabi gives a stellar performance as the PSNI pathologist, with the rapport and relationship she quickly establishes with Gibson being a particular highlight. But it is Jamie Dornan who truly shines in The Fall. Paul Spector is a breakout role for Dornan. He gives a  commanding performance as a very convincing, creepy and yet, inexplicably, likeable character (despite the very violent nature of many of his scenes). It’s hard to imagine any other actor being able to play this role as well or as convincingly and in many ways he steals the show. In addition to the core cast, there are also very solid performances from Gerard McCarthy, Emmett J. Scanlan, Niamh McGrady and countless others.

The Fall is a perfect storm of talent: writers, producers, director and actors. Tightly written, well paced, with fantastic performances from Gillian Anderson and the rest of the cast, the series is a very atmospheric, visceral, psychological thriller. The Fall is, hands down, one of the best home-grown dramas I’ve seen in several years, with the final episode being one of tensest hours of television I can recall since 24 went off the air. Forget ITV’s Broadchurch, this is the next big hit of 2013. The characters are multi-faceted and while we don’t get to know Stella Gibson’s back story very well, there is a sense that she has something of a chequered past; something which deserves further exploration in the future. There is minimal technical dialogue in some places, and, for example, those unfamiliar with what an SIO (Senior Investigating Officer) is may not follow a certain conversation between Burns and Gibson, but such issues are few and far between. With the auspices involved, the strong support amongst BBC executives, there seems little doubt the series has its eye on Line of Duty‘s crown as BBC Two’s most successful drama in several years. The real question is will it take the throne?

The Fall premieres on RTE One in Ireland on Sunday May 12th at 9:30pm, on BBC Two on Monday May 13th at 9pm and on Netflix in the United States on Tuesday May 28th.

  • deborah lariscy

    I live in the US and I really look forward to seeing this series. I enjoy British tv of any type and police dramas are usually top notch. Enjoyed this review, told me what I wanted to know. I don’t have Netflix, but may get it so I can see this. I was hoping to see it on BBC America. We’ll see.

  • Barbara Forsythe

    Looked forward to this. How disappointing.

    It could be set anywhere, with any characters. Nothing about Belfast/NI stands out except PSNI incompetence. Too slow, too much moody music, too many young brunettes, too confusing. First episode should make you want to watch the rest. This was like so many others – incomprehensible scene, with incomprehensible characters, Gillian Anderson totally unbelievable as high ranking Met officer and there was nobody to like. Ill try to watch next week – but having recommended it pre-showing, Ill be keeping quiet now.

    Barbara Forsythe

  • Sid Combes

    For me the trickiest aspect of a police thriller like this is how gratuitously the violence is portrayed. Make it OTT and I do not want to view.
    A serial killer is on the loose in ‘The Fall’ and we see him in action – both planning and executing his murders of young women.
    The violence is shown with realism but never indulgently so. The attention the killer gives to detail both fascinates and repulses.
    I cannot see why Barbara Forsythe felt it was hard to follow and/or incomprehensible. Disturbing and riveting it was, but never hard to follow.
    I’m still intrigued by the title. Maybe I won’t see its relevance until episode 5.

  • Lilly

    Great thriller good angle knowing the killer from the start you really want to try to get inside his mind. I do not understand how anyone would find this hard to follow Good to see northern Irish actors on the box .

  • http://lightscribesoftware.org Will

    Superb show. So nice to see a new twist in a much worked ‘cops n killers’ plot. Greatly enjoyed, look forward to more…