One of the admirable qualities of the show is that it has avoided the temptation of finger pointing and political point scoring. Southcliffe is set in Britain and therefore any discussion of gun laws would seem erroneous, but there is no state of the nation speechifying that one may expect considering the subject matter, nor does it want to invite comparison with mass shootings that have taken place either.
As Durkin and Grisoni have been frantically trying to convince journalists trying to connect the events of Dunblane or Hungerford with Southcliffe, this isn’t a series concerned with fictionalising real life events but one which is focussed on realistically portraying how people react to losing family and how a community both rallies together and also fall apart when faced with a tremendous loss. The focus is on the characters and as Southcliffe has developed, the characters have only become richer and more fascinating.
Admittedly, the slowness of pace and the reluctance to reveal its hand in one go means that getting below the surface of Southcliffe is a task that requires a great deal of patience. Indeed many people have found it a tough watch that isn’t worth it but those who have decided to go with the deliberate style have found the show to be a difficult but ultimately impressive piece of challenging television.
Grisoni is a seasoned professional, deft at his ability to find the balance between character and plot specific to the story he is creating. Red Riding was a project that took more of a pulpy, Ellroyesque approach to its subject matter, it was important to retain the focus on advancing the narrative but never forgot that it relied on a depth of character to make sure the the sometimes twisty convenience of the plot felt as uncontrived as possible.
Southcliffe is much different, as said the focus is on the people and relationships, but Grisoni beautifully matches his writing to Sean Durkin’s confident approach to filmmaking. Durkin is a filmmaker fascinated by the banal, by the everyday and by the incidental, the mass shooting is in the end a peripheral event which Durkin only has limited interest in. As a director he lingers on the difficult moments, the moments which most film or TV doesn’t deal with. He pays special attention to the phone calls from hospitals, the locked down, everyday routines of working class people and the uncomfortable loneliness of one character sitting in an empty house. Durkin allows the camera to do the storytelling rather than the dialogue, as with Martha Marcy May Marlene the true meaning of the story resides in what is unsaid.
That being said, Durkin and Grisoni do rely heavily on their actors to make their approach work and the work done is uniformly excellent. The main players: the aforementioned Kinner, Eddie Marsan, Shirley Henderson, Anatol Yusef and others have been terrific. All their characters feel like they have an unsaid history behind them.
For a primetime show on one of the UK’s most popular channels, this kind of storytelling is bold and risky but over the past few months we have witnessed some extraordinary drama from Channel 4; boundary pushing, challenging, exquisitely crafted. Southcliffe is a bold and brilliant addition to that body of unique, auteur led drama and I cannot wait to see how it wraps up.