watching the excellent Broadchurch, my wife and I decided on yet another program she discovered. The one aspect of this six-episode series (really, just a six-hour movie broken up into six parts) that got her attention was the star: Stellan Skarsgård. I first saw Skarsgård in The Hunt for Red October back. He's a good actor, but not on my list of actors of whom I will see anything they do. This was likely off my radar but, again, I'm so glad it found its way onto my Netflix cue.
If you’ve seen the trailer or read the description, it’s giving nothing away to relate the basic gist of this story. Skarsgård plays DI John River, a man whose partner, DS Jackie "Stevie" Stevenson, was recently murdered. He is haunted by the event, but also by Stevie’s ghost…because River can see her and interact with her. And not only her but other ghosts—“Manifests” as he dubs them—all the time. What is fascinating is the more he digs into the truth about Stevie, the more he realizes there were shades of his former partner about which he never knew.
The plot could come across as rote or mundane, but the acting, especially Skarsgård, allows River to rise above other television programs of the same. It’s not just a crime story; rather, it’s more a nuanced examination of the character and how one violent moment—the murder of his partner—can have such profound impacts on his life. Skarsgård is excellent in this role. More than once, River would be in some dark place, like punching a wall he thinks is a ghost, only to have the character turn on a dime and smile like nothing’s wrong. It’s a bit disorienting for us viewers to say nothing of the supporting characters, especially Adeel Akhtar, who plays Ira King, River’s new partner. We viewers felt for King in the beginning, but he, like us, began to adjust to River’s bizarre behavior. I’d go so far as to say that King is the grounding character River needs to keep one foot on this side of sanity. While King doesn’t necessarily have an arc, he comes across as very sympathetic the longer the story goes on.
Lesley Manville, who plays Chrissie Read, River’s superior officer, also shines. Halfway through the story, it dawned on me that in many of these BBC shows I’ve watched, there are women in powerful positions. Prime Suspect, Broadchurch, The Fall, and Fox’s The Killing. The thing is, in these shows, it’s no big deal. It’s refreshing. Watching Manville’s character react to the events of this story is fantastic.
This is a show of nuances. Little facial tics or a half smile. Of small moments of growth or pain or a character willing to open up a part of themselves. When you watch this—and you should—do not be distracted by your phone or anything else. If you want to find out just where you know Eddie Marsan from—Sherlock Holmes and Little Dorritt for me; there; I helped you—wait until the end of an episode. Devote your full attention to “River” and you will be justly rewarded.