Grace Dent on TV: Southcliffe, Channel 4; Love/Hate, Channel 5; I Love My Country, BBC 1
A bloody thriller with brilliant British actors – but all that bleakness is too hard to bear
As a television critic, over Channel 4's Southcliffe I have failed you. I couldn't stick with it. From the opening moments where Sean Harris, playing yet another heinous but oddly sexually attractive social outsider, stomped through a drizzly provincial town and blasted an old lady in the stomach, my heart wasn't truly in this job. The Mill, Top of the Lake and Ray Donovan on Sky Atlantic featuring acres and acres of Jon Voight's sex face may have been a contributing factor. By Southcliffe's second episode, my heart could not cope, which pains me, because I love Sean Harris. And I love Shirley Henderson. And don't start me off about the wonders of Joe Dempsie, Eddie Marsan or Rory Kinnear. In fact, merely typing all those names makes my heart skip with joy about Britain's bolshie, sublime acting prowess.
But all of them together at once, suffering the abject misery of a town during a random killing spree? I found it easier to look away. Nearing the close of episode two, Shirley Henderson's character Claire Salter, blatantly in the midst of that awful, visceral, wading-through-glue genre of full bodily shock that one may have experienced, is repeatedly trying to call her daughter Anna. A gunman is loose. He's killed several people. The town is in a weird state of muted chaos. Anna's phone goes to voicemail again and again. Claire's fingers are fumbling on the keyboard and she has slipped downwards to the floor emitting a breathy, tragic mewling. She is sweaty, trance-like, clinging on to those last hollow seconds of hope that her daughter isn't dead.
With drama we can draw right up close to the most nightmarish moments of the human condition and have a lovely, long, awful peek, but in this case I'm not sure I can do it. I'd rather do anything instead, water the Miracle-Gro on my lawn and wait for the grass to grow. Endure a Radio 4 Moral Maze where Melanie Phillips and Michael Portillo go head to head over lesbian IVF issues for 43 arduous minutes.
Obviously, much of Southcliffe's bleak punch is down to the very brilliance of Henderson and the cast. Henderson, as shown recently in Michael Winterbottom's prison drama Everyday, can communicate more darkness in one gently bitten bottom lip and downcast gaze than most actresses could achieve with squealing, weeping and flailing.
If my criticism of the crew and cast of Southcliffe is that they're all too bloody good at it, then I doubt Channel 4 can have a problem with that.
In the meantime, I've become curiously wrapped up in Channel 5's Irish gangland import Love/Hate starring Robert Sheehan. Formerly gobby linchpin Nathan in Misfits, now star of new Twilight-in-waiting hyped teen movie The Mortal Instruments, Sheehan will probably be one of the biggest stars in the world at some juncture. He is traffic-jam-provokingly beautiful and exudes a raw badness mixed with Irish homespun charm that suggests he'd give you one hell of a run-around, but would be terribly sporting over paternity cheques. Women, despite themselves, dig this.
In Love/Hate, Sheehan plays gangland face Darren, spends a lot of time in a grubby bomber jacket lurking outside buildings or down alleyways, mobile phone clamped to face, up to no remote shade of good. Sheehan features alongside Aidan Gillan (Littlefinger in Game of Thrones) playing drugs boss John Boy, and a host of young, squash-nosed, rough-diamond acting faces I've never set eyes on previously. In the opening episode – still available on demand – Darren arrives back in Dublin after being on the run and finds himself at a gangland funeral, up to his neck in old issues and unfinished romantic business. Drugs, deaths, hooky lawyers, weightlifting gangsters, fast cars, much-put-upon gangsters' molls and a constant light hip-hop score — imagine The Sopranos, but filmed around the bars, lock-ups and new-build luxury flats of Dublin for a budget of around £9.50 an episode. I rather love it.
The first series of Love/Hate, arriving on Channel 5 weeks ago with no fanfare, first showed on RTE in 2010. It should have been snapped up by E4 back then for the price they fritter on a couple of side-of-bus adverts for Skins. But there is no logic in television land, just scrabbling about and throwing ideas and budgets at walls and hoping something sticks.
I thought of this last Saturday as I watched Micky Flanagan, one of Britain's finest stand-ups, employed by BBC 1 to help place a large Yorkshire pudding on a map to prove he knew where Peterborough was, as pop star and game-show favourite Jamelia sang “All You Need Is Love” in a club style. I Love My Country on BBC 1 aims to capture the Olympic 2012 spirit in a tightly formatted game show. It is the show Shooting Stars with Vic and Bob would have been if the BBC had got its way. More rules, more points, more logic, more enforced zany antics. I watched for 20 minutes and, with a growing migraine, realised I love my country but I also love the television off and the pleasant sound of silence.
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