Skip to main content

We’re very alike, you and me.


The Fall
 Season 1

I don’t generally make time out for homegrown (British) series these days, as they are too frequently starved of inspiration and/or good writing. Why bother coming up with something original (and sweating over it) when you can just copy your American cousins? But The Fall was recommended to me, so I dutifully watched the first four episodes on BBC iPlayer. And they were, with some misgivings, gripping viewing. Then came the fifth, and realisation dawned that this series was actually wrought from  a place of empty, cynical manipulation rather than an attempt to come up with a fresh angle on a tried and tested subgenre.

Allan Cubitt’s premise isn’t so far removed from the greatest of recent screen detectives, Cracker. Insightful individual working with the police is on the trail of a serial killer, whom we see throughout. Some mystery is offered, but the key ingredients revolve around the idiosyncracies of our hero/heroine and encouraging us to relate to, or at least understand, the killer in some way. Cubitt scores in the latter of these areas, but is considerably less successful in the former.

Jamie Dornan’s handsome psycho Paul Spector is the series’ main calling card. A young family man and bereavement counsellor, he leads a dual life as a strangler of women. And he is feeding a growing habit. Dornan’s performance is a strong one, and Cubitt repeatedly succeeds at pulling off the old Hitchcock trick of making us fear that the murderer will be caught. The fourth episode is particularly strong in this regard, and also the most stomach-churning in content.

There have been entirely legitimate debates about the depiction of violence against women in the wake of the series. Obviously, if you’re going to watch a series about a serial killer (since they are invariably male and prey on women), you’re likely to be forearmed regarding its content. And, in general, it seemed that this was appropriately uncomfortable viewing without the writer revelling in the most extreme situations he could think of (unlike the second season of Luther, which was wall-to-wall with that kind of plotting).

As such, I didn’t feel it was being gratuitous until the end of the run; the discovery that the resolution isn’t a resolution, it’s actually carrot dangling permanently out of reach, is a cheat. If the author chooses not to provide catharsis, he needs to at least leave the viewer with something of substance to mull over. But the final episode suggests a house of cards of inconsistencies and poor plotting (and dialogue); the police ought to have been able to wrap things up in another twenty minutes or so. It’s a shameless ploy in the worst sense; all the shocking moments depicted are just a game on the part of the writer after all, designed to prod the viewer to come back for more. There’s no moral dimension or insight, as in the scripts Jimmy McGovern wrote for Cracker.

By the “finale” (an inappropriate description if ever there was one) even Dornan is suffering under the weight of the increasingly rote dialogue and plotting. “We’re very alike”, he tells Gillian Anderson’s DSI. Yes, Cubitt actually went there.

Given the liberal forensic evidence, the lengthy voice recording, the video camera footage, his daughter’s artwork and the facial composite (a particularly credulity-stretching convenience, that a friend of Archie Panjabi’s forensic pathologist should have had an encounter with Dornan at university), you wonder that Dornan and family ever made it onto the ferry bound for Scotland. And a surviving victim has just woken up. Fitz certainly wouldn’t have needed two seasons to find him.

Which brings me to the problem of our protagonist. DSI Stella Gibson isn’t very well conceived. There’s little to really mark her out as a deductive maestro; her flourishes are almost entirely reactive, and she spends much of her time duelling with her boss and colleagues over the inherent sexism in the system. To that end, making her distinct by having her display a penchant for one-night stands isn’t particularly inspired. One might even argue it’s reductively sexist in itself (the only way to conceive of an independent, forthright woman is to show her being independent and forthright sexually). Add to that her emotional frostiness and you wonder if Cubitt hasn’t borrowed liberally from the Danish/Swiss The Bridge (aspergic beauty who likes a good shag is also a demon detective).

Anderson’s a much better actress than Sofia Helin, which is fortunate as the only thing that really singles out DSI Gibson is that Gillian lends her far more gravitas than there is on the page. In the first few episodes I thought Gibson’s tendency to reticence was an interesting character beat but, by the finale, when she’s on the phone to Spector liberally indulging in hyperbole (did she actually repeatedly goad him with “You fucked up”?) any aspiration towards depth has evaporated.

This crucial scene is appallingly written, wearing the series’ purported themes as a badge (as long as Gibson speechifies about “age old violence against women” it presumably lets Cubitt off the hook for revelling in it). The back and forth between Spector and Gibson is overwritten and turgid, allowing a Spector a Hannibal Lecter-like self-awareness of his motivation and the erudition to discuss it (“Art gives the chaos of the World an order that doesn’t exist” – come again?) while the best Gibson can come up with is “Is that really why you called me, to expound some half-baked philosophy?

The cast are all very good; I should mention Bronagh Waugh as Spector’s wife, an unrewarding and reactive part performed with nuance. John Lynch, like Anderson, adds more texture to his irresolute boss than the writing deserves; a fellow officer even exclaims, “You’re weak!” in the fifth episode, as if we the viewers can’t be trusted to work it out for ourselves.

I have no idea where the secondary plotline regarding police corruption is going, if it’s going anywhere, and if it links in any way to our personable maniac. It’s rather random if it doesn’t (what, it’s just filler?) and further makes the case that the series has little respect for its audience. It’s curious that this series has staggered so badly; a scene early in the run has a victim’s sister engaged on the phone to a police call centre while help is on the way. It’s an excellent sequence, particularly the way in which the operator connects with the next caller in the line without pause once officers have arrived. The “big” telephone conversation between Gibson and Spector is so clumsy and facile that I don’t hold out much hope for a dramatic pay-off when he’s finally taken into custody. Perhaps they should call Fitz in.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I never strangled a chicken in my life!

Rope (1948) (SPOILERS) Rope doesn’t initially appear to have been one of the most venerated of Hitchcocks, but it has gone through something of a rehabilitation over the years, certainly since it came back into circulation during the 80s. I’ve always rated it highly; yes, the seams of it being, essentially, a formal experiment on the director’s part, are evident, but it’s also an expert piece of writing that uses our immediate knowledge of the crime to create tension throughout; what we/the killers know is juxtaposed with the polite dinner party they’ve thrown in order to wallow in their superiority.

They'll think I've lost control again and put it all down to evolution.

Time Bandits (1981) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam had co-directed previously, and his solo debut had visual flourish on its side, but it was with Time Bandits that Gilliam the auteur was born. The first part of his Trilogy of Imagination, it remains a dazzling work – as well as being one of his most successful – rich in theme and overflowing with ideas while resolutely aimed at a wide (family, if you like) audience. Indeed, most impressive about Time Bandits is that there’s no evidence of self-censoring here, of attempting to make it fit a certain formula, format or palatable template.

You must have hopes, wishes, dreams.

Brazil (1985) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam didn’t consider Brazil the embodiment of a totalitarian nightmare it is often labelled as. His 1984½ (one of the film’s Fellini-riffing working titles) was “ the Nineteen Eighty-Four for 1984 ”, in contrast to Michael Anderson’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from 1948. This despite Gilliam famously boasting never to have read the Orwell’s novel: “ The thing that intrigues me about certain books is that you know them even though you’ve never read them. I guess the images are archetypal ”. Or as Pauline Kael observed, Brazil is to Nineteen Eighty-Four as “ if you’d just heard about it over the years and it had seeped into your visual imagination ”. Gilliam’s suffocating system isn’t unflinchingly cruel and malevolently intolerant of individuality; it is, in his vision of a nightmare “future”, one of evils spawned by the mechanisms of an out-of-control behemoth: a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. And yet, that is not really, despite how indulgently and glee

Oh, you got me right in the pantaloons, partner.

The Party (1968) (SPOILERS) Blake Edwards’ semi-improvisational reunion with Peter Sellers is now probably best known for – I was going to use an elephant-in-the-room gag, but at least one person already went there – Sellers’ “brown face”. And it isn’t a decision one can really defend, even by citing The Party ’s influence on Bollywood. Satyajit Ray had also reportedly been considering working with Sellers… and then he saw the film. One can only assume he’d missed similar performances in The Millionairess and The Road to Hong Kong ; in the latter case, entirely understandable, if not advisable. Nevertheless, for all the flagrant stereotyping, Sellers’ bungling Hrundi V Bakshi is a very likeable character, and indeed, it’s the piece’s good-natured, soft centre – his fledgling romance with Claudine Longet’s Michele – that sees The Party through in spite of its patchy, hit-and-miss quality.

I'm an old ruin, but she certainly brings my pulse up a beat or two.

The Paradine Case (1947) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock wasn’t very positive about The Paradine Case , his second collaboration with Gregory Peck, but I think he’s a little harsh on a picture that, if it doesn’t quite come together dramatically, nevertheless maintains interest on the basis of its skewed take on the courtroom drama. Peck’s defence counsel falls for his client, Alida Valli’s accused (of murder), while wife Ann Todd wilts dependably and masochistically on the side-lines.

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983) (SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bond s in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball , but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again , despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy .

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds . Juno and the Paycock , set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Miss Livingstone, I presume.

Stage Fright (1950) (SPOILERS) This one has traditionally taken a bit of a bruising, for committing a cardinal crime – lying to the audience. More specifically, lying via a flashback, through which it is implicitly assumed the truth is always relayed. As Richard Schickel commented, though, the egregiousness of the action depends largely on whether you see it as a flaw or a brilliant act of daring: an innovation. I don’t think it’s quite that – not in Stage Fright ’s case anyway; the plot is too ordinary – but I do think it’s a picture that rewards revisiting knowing the twist, since there’s much else to enjoy it for besides.

Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know, if you ripped the fronts off houses, you'd find swine? The world's a hell. What does it matter what happens in it?

Shadow of a Doubt (1943) (SPOILERS) I’m not sure you could really classify Shadow of a Doubt as underrated, as some have. Not when it’s widely reported as Hitchcock’s favourite of his films. Underseen might be a more apt sobriquet, since it rarely trips off the lips in the manner of his best-known pictures. Regardless of the best way to categorise it, it’s very easy to see why the director should have been so quick to recognise Shadow of a Doubt 's qualities, even if some of those qualities are somewhat atypical.