The best TV of 2013: No 10 – The Fall (BBC2)

On The Guardian appeared review of the TV series “The Fall” starring Gillian Anderson. The author is Lucy Mangan. Feel free to read.

This serial killer drama was not an easy watch, but the atmosphere of dread and the brutal murders were accompanied by some very sophisticated drama.

At this distance, I just recall the feeling of utter dread. Watching The Fall was like feeling water closing over your head. I used to welcome the flaws it certainly had – massive coincidences, some weird and not wonderful choices in terms of both plot and by characters, police investigative work that at times would have shamed Trumpton’s constabulary – as air pockets and breathe in a few lungfuls of reality before another Spector scene began and the black waters rose again.

Gillian Anderson was the big draw as DS Stella Gibson, the officer in charge of hunting down the person responsible for laying waste to Belfast’s young, professional, female (brunette), population and gathered a lot of plaudits. For my money, I thought her performance skidded across the line separating “glacial” from simply “frozen stiff” – you’ve got to give us something, Scully. But I thought Jamie Dornan as Paul Spector (bereavement counsellor and devoted family man by day, serial killer by night) was extraordinary. A virtually untried actor coming in and carrying off a part like that – sad, mad or some unholy mixture of the two but most definitely dangerous to know – was just amazing. I thought he would spend the rest of the year having awards and gorgeous, meaty, compelling scripts thrown at him but no. His next major role (apart from a second season of The Fall) is as Christian Grey in the film adaptation of EL James’ famous “mommy porn” bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey. This is a thought I cannot contemplate for long, lest I start bleeding from the ears, so let us move on.

(And no, dear readers who wrote to ask me if I was praising him in my review at the time because I fancied him, I did not. I didn’t even realise he was handsome until his old Calvin Klein ads started re-appearing to accompany articles in the press as the series took hold. Between the beard and, you know, the whole serial-killing thing, I really hadn’t noticed that he was both beautiful and damned.)

I take the point that a number of people made at the time that the killing of women as the central hook for an evening (or five’s) entertainment is wearyingly common and becoming more exceptionable as it becomes less and less exceptional. But for me at least, the murders and the murder victims – especially the first one – were given sufficient weight and the consequences enough attention to mark it out from the crowd. The father’s identification of his daughter’s body on its own reduced me to tears at the savagery and pointlessness of Spector’s depredations. There’s a distinction to be made between a whodunnit – in which the murder is no more than a plot point and you could say, if you were framing it at all in those terms, almost always immoral and a whydunnit, which looks at the psychology and ramifications of killing and can be (not necessarily is, but can be) a legitimate and worthy enterprise.

The ending was rushed, full of loose ends and unrealised potential, but we’ll put that down to a sudden recommission and emergency rewriting session – although I still find it hard to forgive some of the clunking lines given to Gibson during the final phone call that had to make do as the long-promised confrontation between the cold, calculating hunter and her cold, calculating prey.

No matter. The second series goes into production next year and with any luck, all loose ends – and Spector himself – will be gathered in and we can all breathe a sigh of relief. My lungs are bursting.