After the first episode kept itself brutally low key and focused on mainly two characters, the second episode of Channel 4 and Warp Films’ Southcliffe expands its purview to a few more of the town’s members as the examination of how a mass shooting alters the lives of people continues. We are introduced to two new families; the Goulds and the Salters, who each have their lives dramatically touched by the tragedy, as Southcliffe continues its honest, unflinching portrayal of town life destroyed by one unbelievable event.
Once again this episode is told mostly in flashback and following the same structure as the first episode, it opens with more of the shootings. This time we see Stephen invading and breaking into people’s houses and murdering them in their beds. Most shockingly he breaks into Chris’ house (the man who assaulted Stephen previously) and shoots his girlfriend as she lays next to him. The action then cuts to the days before, where we find the early morning rise of the Salter family.
Claire and Andrew (Shirley Henderson and Eddie Marsan) are a seemingly happily married couple with a teenage daughter, Anna (Kaya Scodelario). Claire is on the verge of starting IVF treatment with full emotional backing from her husband and Anna is about to begin life at university. They are seemingly the happiest couple in the town (well, as happy as a couple can be in a show like this) even though they they their own personal issues. The Gould family however, even before the shooting, have many broiling tensions brewing beneath the family dynamic that has them on the verge of collapse. Paul (Anatol Yusef) and his brother have recently lost their father, and Paul is also involved in an affair with a younger woman which his wife is aware of but believes has ended a long time ago. They are, however, maintaining the status quo, living their lives to the best they can.
Nothing is safe for long though and both the families are soon to be touched unbelievably by the tragedy. It is revealed early on in the episode that Claire is the other carer of Stephen Morton’s bed bound mother. There is a brilliant repeat of a scene from episode 1 where we see the same scene only from a different perspective and its a brutal tone shift where we realise that not everything is going to go well for the Salters. The relationship between Claire and Stephen is not yet fully revealed but there is very much something between them which goes unsaid, which comes across beautifully in a later scene when Claire listens to a voice message Stephen left her. It is a look of horror, sadness and impending dread which is beautifully played by Shirley Henderson.
The following morning after the wake at the Gould’s pub (the morning of the shootings), Paul’s wife and kids head out on a day trip while Paul goes to five a side football match. On his way back he learns the horrifying news that his entire family has been hit by Stephen, who shot at the car which exploded and engulfed them in flames. One of the most difficult things to capture on film is a character learning terrible news and being hit by the sudden rush of overwhelming grief and heartbreak. In the moment though, Anatol Yusef hits it spot on, reminiscent of the moment in A Mighty Heart when Angelina Jolie’s character learns news of her husband’s death. He plays the confusion and the unfathomable realization of immense emotional loss incredibly well and played in entirely one shot, it is incredibly difficult to hide.
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