Southcliffe Review: “Sorrow’s Child” (Series 1, Episode 3)


We are three episodes into Southcliffe, one away from its denouement, and all the individual threads are beginning to slowly but surely come together. This episode, aside from some incidental and beautifully observed moments, dispenses with the flashback structure it has employed in the first two episodes, choosing instead to further pursue the aftermath of the shootings. To achieve this, director Sean Durkin and writer Tony Grisoni push the character of journalist David Whitehead to the fore as he reacquaints himself fully with his hometown that has been touched by the devastating incident.

In a way, David Whitehead (Rory Kinnear) is somewhat a device, a conduit through which we are allowed to understand and comprehend the grief that has come to these people. The episode is primarily concerned with Whitehead going around Southcliffe and interviewing those touched by the tragedy as an attempt to gain a human perspective on his story. Through that structure, the series further delivers on its promise as a piece about grief and loss as Whitehead asks the other characters about their grief and loss. It is unfair, however, to simply regard Whitehead as a narrative construct.

He simply just hasn’t been allowed the screen time that has been given to the other characters, but there is deep loss in Whitehead’s life too. Throughout, there are hints dropped into dialogue and flashbacks that are leading towards greater revelations about his past that will expose him as being as damaged as the others in Southcliffe. Kinnear’s performance is one that is marked by both a resistance against his home town but also one that feels great sadness about the events and the frustration at the townsfolk’s inability to notice the signs.

During the duration of his stay in Southcliffe, Whitehead has kept his emotions surrounding the events and his former life in the sleepy town very close to his chest. He is reluctant to indulge other people with his feelings. Kinnear brilliantly portrays a man attempting to walk the line between his burden of grief and a job which requires him to remain an unfettered voice of restraint for his audience. It is clear, however, that his time in Southcliffe has begun to unearth all the past traumas and he can no longer retain an unbalanced view on his main story.

In the final moments of the episode, Whitehead breaks down in his live broadcast, insisting that Southcliffe is a town who has deliberately shied away from addressing the problem that had resided there all along: that Stephen Morton was a man who was potentially dangerous and everyone turned a blind eye. He is understandably taken off air before he can continue his diatribe but it can’t silence him for long, as he continues to air his frustration in a local pub and turns completely on the locals for their ignorance. This is the only form of political soapboxing that Southcliffe has allowed thus far but it is a moment that feels entirely a part of that character rather than simply being the overwhelming voice of the creators.

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