Haunting new drama River has more than a whiff of the Scandi drama about it.
The lead is Detective John River, haunted – in a very real sense – by the murder victims he is tasked to investigate.
Brooding Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård leads an impressive line-up. Here’s everyone and everything you need to know.
John River – Stellan Skarsgård
Swedish actor Skarsgård brings a suitable air of Nordic noir to BBC1 as lead character detective John River.
River is a wreck, mentally shattered from his work. He believes he sees ‘manifests’, figures of the dead drifting through his mind, talking to him and helping him piece together the circumstances of their case.
“This police officer I’m playing, he has a mental disorder,” Skarsgård ventures. “We’ve heard a lot about people that hear voices, but he actually sees those people as well that he’s talking to, and very often it is victims of crime that pop up and have conversations with him. They’re not like ghosts, they’re his own creations.”
Skarsgård himself as proved adept at jumping between light and shade: no one else can say they’ve gone from Lars von Trier to Mamma Mia!. Most recently he’s appeared as Dr. Erik Selvig in the Thor and Avengers movies.
Jackie ‘Stevie’ Stevenson – Nicola Walker
Last Tango in Halifax and Spooks star Nicola Walker is very busy: last week her new drama Unforgotten had its debut on ITV, and this week she co-stars as River’s colleague ‘Stevie’.
Except, it isn’t quite as simple as that, because Stevie is one of River’s ‘manifests’. River is committed to solving her murder, but because of his unique mental state, she’s almost more of a partner now than she was in life.
“As a piece, it’s incredibly mournful at times because it’s about grief, getting things wrong, not saying things when you should say things, leaving it too late,” she says. “There is an awful, awful lot of regret for my character and Stellan’s character, but there is something incredibly joyful about it as well; that’s the journey it goes on.”
Ira King – Adeel Akhtar
Utopia actor Akhtar plays Ira King, given the unenviable task of ‘replacing’ Stevie as River’s partner. Gradually, he tries to understand exactly what is going on in River’s mind.
“Ira is one of the people who sees River’s psychosis up close,” explains Akhtar. “He takes on board what River is going through as well, and through his attempt to understand what’s happening to River, they create a strong bond together.”
Akhtar was nominated for a Bafta for his role in Channel 4’s ill-fated drama Utopia, and is also set to appear in upcoming BBC1 espionage series The Night Manager.
Cream – Eddie Marsan
A real-life killer from the nineteenth century, Thomas Neill Cream appears as one of River’s manifests. Played by Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell star Eddie Marsan, Cream is one of the weirder characters in writer Abi Morgan’s script.
“Thomas Cream is an interesting one because he’s a literal character,” says Morgan, “but also in one of the episodes River says ‘Who are you?’ and Cream says ‘I am you. I am despair. I am death,’ so they also become physical-emotional-verbal manifestations of the deepest darkest parts of River’s thoughts.”
Marsan is also back in Showtime drama Ray Donovan, which has just finished its third season.
Chrissie Read – Lesley Manville
DCI Reid is River’s boss, played by actress Lesley Manville. Worried about his state of mind, Reid nevertheless realises she needs the particular talents of River on her team.
“John River is a Detective Inspector who is a complex guy; he doesn’t deal with things in a straight forward A to B fashion,” Manville says. “He’s a man who the phrase ‘he thinks outside of the box’ was probably coined for. He sees things with lateral vision and that’s why to Chrissie he is such a good detective, because where I would imagine 95% of detectives, if they are good, they see things in a linear way, but he doesn’t.”
Mnaville, seen in Doctor Who history An Adventure in Space and Time as William Hartnell’s wife Heather, is set to appear in sci-fi movie Rupture alongside Noomi Rapace.
Rosa Fellows – Georgina Rich
Therapist and psychologist Rosa has taken a special interest in River’s case, and has to assess him when the extent of his problems becomes clear. Still mourning Stevie’s death, will River find a way to open up to Rosa?
Actress Georgina Rich has credits in Ripper Street, Spooks and Sherlock, and is also set to appear in upcoming BBC drama Cuffs with Sherlock star Amanda Abbington.
Bridie Stevenson – Sorcha Cusack
Bridie is Stevie’s formidable Irish mother; losing her daughter has taken its toll, as is constantly crossing paths with River during the investigation into her murder.
Sorcha Cusack has featured in BBC1 daytime drama Father Brown.
Marcus McDonald – Owen Teale
The big boss, McDonald has no time for River’s unorthodox investigation skills, and is putting pressure on his deputy Chrissie Read to sideline her troubled detective. River, however, realises that McDonald has issues of his own.
Actor Owen Teale is best known for his role in Game of Thrones as Ser Alliser Thorne, but returned to his Welsh roots for Ruth Jones’s Sky 1 dramedy Stella.
River airs on Friday nights on ABC in Australia