River, BBC1, Stellan Skarsgard, Nicola Walker

8876050-low_res-river

Captivating new crime drama in which the victims having starring roles

★★★★ BBC1, day, date to be announced

CASTING Stellan Skarsgärd as a British detective was a bold but canny move by the makers of this intriguing thriller. If you want a performer who can play a troubled soul, then who better than a man from the land of long winter days and Ingmar Bergman, a director whose fave themes were death, bleakness and insanity?

Death is also the theme of River and Skarsgard also a Swede, familiar from movie hits such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Mamma Mia! He is terrific in this unusual series as Detective Inspector John River, a cranky cop traumatised by the shooting of his partner.

What starts off as a police procedural abruptly swerves into unusual territory when we realise River is no ordinary cop. The reason he is grumpy – and brilliant – is that he is haunted by the dead.

Eddie Marsan as a Victorian killer

If that sounds a bit Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), don’t be put off. This series, written by Emmy award-winner Abi Morgan (The Hour, The Iron Lady), is far more emotionally affecting.

The people who invade River’s mind are the murder victims of his cases, in addition – bizarrely – to a serial killer from annals of Victorian crime called the Lambeth Poisoner. Eddie Marsan is suitably disturbing in this role.

River is seen talking to himself – actually to the dead – and is viewed as a bit of a nut by most officers around the police station. He hangs onto his job because of his 80 percent clear-up rate.

Nicola Walker is River’s ex-partner

While the story is good at exploring grief and loss, it is buoyed up by some beautifully funny moments. Nicola Walker (Last Tango in Halifax) is wonderful as River’s ex-partner, Stevie, all fast food and disco songs. And Adeel Akhtar – unforgettable in C4’s Utopia – turns up as another put-upon character, Ira, who is assigned to be River’s new partner.

Chalk and cheese doesn’t begin to cover it, and their scenes together veer between very funny and quite moving.

With so many fine performers and such an emotionally nuanced story, River is a notch above so many mainstream crime series out there.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: