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TV Review: Cop show dares to be different

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“The Fall”. BBC

“The Fall”. BBC

“The Fall”. BBC

The Fall (RTE 1, Sun, BBC2, tonight) -- Full marks to RTE for airing The Fall a day ahead of the BBC. If there's any justice, this five-part thriller, set in Belfast, will become every bit as talked about as the first series of The Killing.

It has a number of things in common with that series: slow, deliberate pacing; moody photography; a pervading atmosphere of gloom, and a mounting sense of menace.

But that's pretty much where the similarities end, because while The Killing was a layered mystery that yielded up its secrets week by week, The Fall, written by Alan Cubitt, who's worked on Prime Suspect and Murphy's Law, tips its hand early on.

 

Strangling

A killer is at large in the city, strangling young professional women. Within the first two minutes we learn his identity. He's Paul Spector (the excellent Jamie Doran), a grief counsellor with a loving wife (Bronagh Waugh), who works as a nightshift nurse, and two adorable little kids.

But Spector's almost boringly happy home life couldn't be more different to what he gets up to at night, skulking around the flat of his next intended victim, Sarah Kay, a young female solicitor he's been stalking, and rifling through her underwear drawer.

When Sarah arrives home from an evening out and discovers someone has neatly arranged a bra and a pair of knickers on her bed, she calls the police, who despatch a pair of uniforms so thick they'd have trouble passing the Keystone Kops entrance exam.

"Could the cat have been on the bed?" one of them wonders, while the other one thinks the two glasses of wine Sarah had made her imagine someone had been snooping around her flat and strewing her skimpies around.

The Fall paints a deeply unflattering portrait of the PSNI as an overstretched force of lethargic, disinterested bunglers who can't spot clues because their noses get in the way.

It's lucky, then, that Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), a hotshot detective superintendent from the London Met, is winging her way to Belfast to put manners on the local plod, who've hit a brick wall on the murder of Spector's previous victim, the architect daughter of a high-ranking unionist politician.

Stella is a tough cookie who doesn't suffer fools gladly. "I've done 28-day reviews before," she tells an assistant chief constable, played by the perpetually mournful-looking John Lynch, after he shows a slight sign of patronising her.

"Not here you haven't," he cautions. "Things are different here."

"You mean all that 'My God is better than your God' stuff?" she sneers disdainfully. Oof!

 

Weirder

Holed up in the Hilton Hotel, Stella starts sifting through case files and spots what she thinks is a connection between the murder of the politician's daughter and a previous killing. In both cases the modus operandi was the same; the victim was slowly strangled over the space of an hour. Assistant Chief Constable Mournful, however, refuses to believe that there's a serial killer at large.

Meanwhile, we're gradually discovering that Spector is even weirder than he first appeared.

During a counselling session with a couple whose child has died, he spends most of the time idly sketching a picture of the wife in the nude. Well, perhaps not that idly, since he keeps a kind of scrapbook on his victims, past and future, full of lewd drawings, strange notations and photos.

The Fall is gripping, yet difficult to categorise. It's not a routine murder mystery and it's not a standard police procedural, either. Unmasking the killer so early in the game and giving equal weight to hunter and hunted is a bold move, but it works brilliantly. If I had to sum it up in one word, it would be 'different'. I doubt there'll be another thriller quite like it.

 

The Fall 5/5


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