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How Deadwater Fell was inspired by a Netflix true crime doc

The new Channel 4 series is a work of fiction, but has a connection to Netflix's thrilling documentary series The Staircase

Anna Madeley and Cush Jumbo in Deadwater Fell
Published: Friday, 10th January 2020 at 8:45 am

Channel 4's dark new crime drama Deadwater Fell was inspired by real-world cases outlined in crime documentaries, particularly Netflix's The Staircase.


The series, which stars David Tennant as a man suspected of killing his family in a house fire, isn't directly based on a true story but writer Daisy Coulam (Grantchester) did consult with a forensic psychologist and examine several real crimes.

Speaking at a Q&A session, Deadwater Fell producer Emma Kingsman-Lloyd said: "We’re both a little bit obsessed with true crime shows which is where the initial thought came from, because Daisy [Coulam] said that she wanted to write something that had the forensic detail of a true crime documentary show."

One such programme that proved to be a particularly big influence on their series was Netflix's The Staircase, which explores the story of novelist Michael Peterson whose wife died after falling down a flight of stairs.

When an autopsy found signs that she had been beaten which were inconsistent with her fall, Peterson was tried for murder but he and his daughters maintained his innocence throughout.

Former Humans writer Coulam told that the opening shot of the Netflix documentary was particularly memorable for her.

She said: "You’re going through a house and it’s all quiet and you go ‘this incredibly violent thing happened there’. That sort of stillness and the natural way that, even when they’re talking about dead people, it’s very matter of fact the way they talk about things. We just wanted to capture that sense really."

In addition, David Tennant's role in Deadwater Fell was partly inspired by the real-life accused Peterson, with Coulam taking inspiration from how divided people are on the question of his innocence.

She continued: "I like that ambiguity and that he’s a really fascinating character, so just drawing on that really and that sort of nuance is what I was hoping for."

Tennant plays a well-liked GP in a small Scottish village who comes under suspicion of murder, starring alongside Anna Madeley (Patrick Melrose), Cush Jumbo (The Good Fight) and Matthew McNulty (Cleaning Up).


Deadwater Fell will air on Friday 10th January on Channel 4


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