When I first heard about The Fall I had a little groan that echoed right back to my A-level French literature days. Oh no! Why would BBC2 want to adapt that last Albert Camus novel? What a terrible idea.
Then, when I realised it wasn’t a reworking of a 1956 existentialist philosophical classic, I groaned again. Oh no! Not another crime drama where young women are subjected to extremes of fear before they are murdered in their beds by a serial killer. What a terrible idea.
But The Fall (Monday BBC2) has turned out to be a happy surprise. It’s by no means your average clever-predator-stalked-by-possibly-even-cleverer-hunter. It’s a proper, adult drama, carefully written by Allan Cubitt and extremely well directed and acted. As Det Supt Stella Gibson, sent to Belfast by the Metropolitan Police to review the hunt for a killer, Gillian Anderson shows yet again that no one quite does icy cleverness like she does. And Jamie Dornan, who I’d previously only known as “that young man who used to go out with Keira Knightley” goes against his cute heart-throb status to play serial killer Paul Spector.
Outwardly Spector is a man with everything. A seemingly empathetic grief counsellor, married to a nurse and with a young family. But, though he’s not the blank, strangle-happy weirdo of lesser serial killer dramas, he is still a monster who hides his killing-kit in the roof space above the ceiling mobile in his daughter’s bedroom. He is a man who stalks a very specific type of young woman, then, with dreadful deliberation, kills them in their own homes. Indeed there’s a horribly disturbing and very long sequence in this week’s second episode as Spector fetishes his latest victim before, with sick-making deliberation, making his particular “arrangements”.
What I like about The Fall is that it’s genuinely unpleasant. I can appreciate this sounds odd but it is a drama that isn’t solely predicated on shock tactics. It earns its reactions and it demands an emotional investment. The gasp-out-loud-moments are few and far between, but when they come, they have an impact. It feels rooted in some kind of reality, albeit a deeply twisted one. And The Fall takes its time letting us get to know the victims. These aren’t the artfully arranged waxy bodies of anonymous mannequins with no hinterland (hello CSI, we’re looking at you), these are actual women. People with jobs and lives and personalities. When Spector strikes, we take it personally because we have “met” these women, The Fall has made sure that they are established as proper flesh-and-blood characters, with ambitions and hopes.
I hope with The Fall, and Broadchurch, that we’ve entered a new era of British crime dramas, where thought and emotional connection trump gore, sadism and misogyny.