TV review: Southcliffe might not be cheery, but this is rare and brilliant Sunday night viewing

Southcliffe, Sun, Channel 4 //  I Love My Country, Sat, BBC1

The best thing about Southcliffe – a new drama about a man who goes on a killing spree – was its disturbing silences: the fizzing quietness of electricity pylons at the start mixed with the dull patter of rain, just before a woman, tending to her garden, was shot dead by the invisible gunman. Or the silence in between the gunshots that rang out as Stephen (Sean Harris) – the village’s handyman who lived with his ill, ageing mother – sprayed bullets across this hitherto faceless English seaside town. Or the small silences in the pub, where he sat with an air of a man who had spent a lifetime being slighted, wincing even at the everyday mockery of his nickname there – “Commander”. Or the final, terrible quiet just before he went on his murderous rampage, when he switched modes from loving son – fetching his mother’s breakfast – to armed assassin, standing in front of her, minutes after he had given her the breakfast tray, to shoot her dead (“close your eyes, mum”).

Dramas about mass killings such as this one are often told in reverse – we see the violent act first, before we go back in time to unravel what could possibly have led to this moment – and Southcliffe followed this format. It did not try to enter into Stephen’s head. It gave us the steps that built up to the event in a deadpan, almost documentary style – rather like Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, which had its own quiet, over-the-shoulder view of a massacre of Columbine High School proportions. There was no explanation, no emotional overload.

Of course, there were the terrible and distant echoes of Dunblane, Hungerford and more recently, the Cumbria shootings, yet the strength of Southcliffe was how specific this slaughter became. It was about Stephen’s specifically skewed sense of reality, his delusions of SAS greatness, which were punctured by an Afghan war vet who saw through them; and his bitterness, too, at being the odd one out, nurtured by the small indignities at work and the daily tragedy of tending to his mother’s disability. 

The various sub-strands and smaller characters are set to be  fleshed out in coming episodes into slices of life from a village struck by such a surreal and horrific event. There is the squaddie, Chris (Joe Dempsie), for example, freshly back from Afghanistan, who in his short-lived friendship with Stephen exposed the scar – and blood-lust – that war has left on him: “Combat, there ain’t nothing like it,” he said, revealing the sense of purposelessness that a returning vet might feel back home. Rory Kinnear is the adrenalin-fuelled TV reporter (“fuck John Simpson”) who, we guess, will be called to cover the seaside town  tragedy. It might not be the cheeriest TV, but as far as bleakness goes, this is rare and brilliant Sunday-night viewing.

I Love My Country tried to recapture that Olympics feeling of British pride that we are all finally able to express, but managed to summon it up with all the fun of a Citizenship Test. Take some of the tongue-in-cheek questions that host, Gabby Logan, hit  her panellists with: “What is the capital of Wales?”  and “The British takeaway, fish and chips, is served with what and vinegar?” There was talk of the Queen,  J R Hartley and much hilarity from the studio audience who were dressed in red and blue wigs, for that added Britishness, you understand. David Walliams was originally set to present the show but was replaced by Logan who conducted her job with the charisma of a newscaster reading an autocue. Even more inexplicable were slow-mo repeats of quiz-meisters Frank Skinner and Micky Flanagan laughing with celebrity team-mates. Huh?

Among the various heats was a quiz for remembering tunes that began old TV shows. The starting jingle of the long-forgotten children’s TV show Why Don’t You? comes  to mind: “Why don’t you switch off the television set and  go and do something less boring instead?”

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas