In its first two series The Fall has included a scene lingering on the ritual killing of young and smart lawyer Sarah Kay by sexual predator Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), and the later emergence of Katie, the young character played by Aisling Franciosi, who is excited and obsessed by who he is and what he does.
Gillian Anderson’s lead copper Stella Gibson’s also appears to have a fascination for her quarry which some viewers – and characters in the drama – have questioned. One column in the Mail said the drama was an “invitation to share an extended rape fantasy”.
The writer Allan Cubitt is having none of it.
“Yes, I do feel hurt,” says the 64-year-old, creator and director of the BBC2 drama. “I was very upset by the implications of what was said — because whose fantasy would it be but mine?
“Being accused of misogyny when you’re not a misogynistic person, and indeed your entire raison d’être is the reverse of that, feels like an artistic failure. But at the same time I’m long enough in the tooth to know that you have no way of controlling the responses. People will bring what they will bring to bear.
“There has been one female death in The Fall across the first 11 episodes and that was the character of Sarah Kay. The other ones are reported, but I only showed the murder of one woman on screen, which I needed to do to show what it was that Paul Spector [Jamie Dornan’s character] was about.
“I don’t expect to be applauded for my restraint, but I do think that compared with a great many other dramas I could mention The Fall has never indulged itself in that way. The most violent thing we did was to show Spector kill a man [Joe Brawley] in series one.”
Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan in The Fall
Cubitt believes people find it troubling if they see Spector is at the centre of the drama, when in fact that place properly belongs to his adversary, Gillian Anderson’s detective Stella Gibson. He also believes that his drama was tainted when it first came out by a slew of other shows, such as Channel 4’s French import The Returned, which he says graphically depicted violence against women, prompting a backlash that he believes was unfair.
“I watched the first season of The Returned, which I liked in many ways, but there’s a [scene with] a woman who’s walking and wearing a PVC cat suit because it’s Halloween, and she’s attacked, stabbed, and then the killer makes an attempt to devour her internal organs on camera. It’s a zombie drama on some level. So I think one of the things is that The Fall disconcerts because hopefully there’s an element of truth… “
He says he is what a feminist looks like (“Give me the T-shirt and I will put it on!”) and points to the way Gibson frequently “criticises patriarchal structures” in society, citing a speech by victim Sara Kay before her death about a matrilineal society in north China where “there are no words for rape and no words for murder, and no prisons”.
There is also a scene in the new episode when Stella talks to Rose’s husband, who has also been taken to hospital after her abduction by Spector, and tells him that if his wife is to recover she will need his support.
It struck me as offering a defiantly feminine – if not feminist – perspective on nature of victimhood and male violence, and was welcome, if a little overdue.
For Cubitt, though, the person whose opinion matters most to him is that of his daughter — a “student of literature, a painter and a poet and a feminist” – who was 18 when The Fall first came out and is now 22.
“She gets what it is that I’m trying to do and supports it. If she doubted me, then I would be in trouble. She counselled me very well about why I should not give it anymore thought.”
On the question of Spector’s good looks, he admits he wrote the character as handsome (though he believes that male model Dornan “looks quite normal in The Fall”) only to demonstrate that not all men who attack women are “sad” individuals who can’t charm women.
He insists that Gibson does not find Spector attractive, although “she recognises that he has qualities that under different circumstances could have made him a different person.”
“He’s intelligent, he’s probably a kind of failed artist in some kind of way, although she points out to him at the end of season one, ‘You think what you’re doing is art – it’s not. It’s disgusting, it’s chaotic’. But I think she recognises, as people did with Ted Bundy, that there was potential there that has become horribly thwarted.”
Whether Gibson finally gets her man at the end of series three remains to be seen, but Cubitt says he is not done with the world of The Fall even when this final series ends.
“If Gibson is left standing at the end, I see no reason why she shouldn’t carry on, but I’m not going to say if she’s left standing or not. Or Spector, come to that.
“Gillian is up for playing Stella forever, she says, but… she loves the character, and because of the way I work, it’s not that there’s not a lot more to explore in Gibson’s character beyond the third season, because I’m not… I’m not the sort of writer who seeks to explain things away in a simple kind of way.”
The Fall returns tonight on BBC2 at 9pm