In Channel 4’s compelling new drama, Southcliffe, we are reminded that the phenomenon of rampaging lone gunmen is not just the preserve of our American cousins.
Set in a fictional market town, this first episode is a guessing game: who is the killer and why do they kill? The prime suspect (played by a supremely grizzled and entirely convincing Sean Harris) is loner Stephen, an SAS fantasist who holidays away from his suffocating home life in a shipping container; but the equal parts shy and voyeuristic camerawork expertly generates an atmosphere of doubt and dread. By the end we have our answer, however, with three episodes still to come, this is only the appetizer – the aftermath is the main. A subplot concerning a journalist (Rory Kinnear) with history in the town, and the identical opening and closing shots of mist and mudflats, suggest that the truth is already beyond reach.
Imogen Lyons, 17, Horsham, Sussex says…
Southcliffe is stunningly, bravely effective. A dull palate of greys and greens and mud, the muffling fog and the uneasy silences all combine to make a grim watch, right from when the morning’s eerie calm is shattered by gunshots, and the past returns.
Some might complain that such grimness is unwatchable, but the influence of real-life events – of Hungerford, of Dunblane – casts long shadows. These events have happened before, and the lives of the characters – the stunned reaction of Rory Kinnear’s journalist to the massacre in his hometown, the drudgery of the life of Sean Harris’s gunman Stephen, soldier Chris (Joe Dempsie) snapping at and comforting his wife, taunting his former friend, grieving for another – are soaked in sadness and an almost tangible sense of failure, even before the first shots ring out for the second time. Southcliffe is as haunting as the ghosts that the shootings dragged back.
Paul Lemon, 54, Manchester, says…
Southcliffe, Channel 4’s new crime drama, beats BBC1’s recent Broadchurch in one respect. It took Broadchurch much longer to get boring. It managed it in three episodes while Southcliffe took only one. Billed in some papers as a drama along the lines of The Hungerford killings, Southcliffe started with a shooter gunning down an old woman supposedly gardening just after dawn, as you do. A couple of shots later, hardly a massacre, we got the opening credits. Now, did I miss it or did we suddenly go back in time without a warning? We are then introduced to a succession of boring characters about whom I don’t care a whit. In fact I would gun the lot of them down and introduce some more interesting ones.
Thank God for the adverts. They helped break up the tedium. I must try some of those Oats so Simple biscuits.
Mark Thomas Hammond, 29, Newcastle-under-Lyme, says…
Welcome to “Anglo-Saxon England”, a news anchor informs the viewer. An England of pea-soup mist, stark photography and sharp story-telling, as told through C4’s uncompromising Southcliffe. A town where the weather looms as imposingly heavy as the subject matter of this four-piece drama.
Mooring in a sea of primetime drama grit, Southcliffe rises above, as the story of deluded “Commander” Stephen Morton gradually starts unfolding. A former Gulf War veteran, Sean Harris’ performance at least commands the audience’s respect, if not that of the war-hardened locals.
Despite the story’s very real connection to 1987’s tragic Hungerford murders, part one also bore an uncanny resemblance to Shane Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes: unsurprising, given that visionary label Warp produced both.
Although uneasy viewing in places, all names involved will definitely be ones to watch in future, potentially giving Broadchurch a steeple chase for its sterling.
Welcome to Hell.
Welcome to Southcliffe.
Marc Seymour, 21, Co. Durham, says…
There has been a lot of discussion surrounding new Channel 4 drama, ‘Southcliffe’, and its subject matter. Focusing on a small town which is struck by a shooting tragedy, the series has already drawn comparisons to real-life events.
As you would expect, ‘Southcliffe’ is a tough watch from beginning to end. Sean Harris captivates as the shooter, Stephen, a loner who is obsessed with all things military. He appears vulnerable and psychotic, all within the episode. The scene in which he makes his mother’s breakfast, before shooting her and the dog dead is utterly shocking. ‘Southcliffe’ doesn’t justify Stephen’s actions, it just provides context.
The shots of the haunting landscape and the lack of music only add to the feeling of unease that this drama creates. ‘Southcliffe’ is brutal and often uncomfortable viewing, but is also utterly compelling and one of the most powerful dramas on Channel 4 for years.
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