Available on American Netflix at the moment, this BBC One drama shows off the best of British television and is sheer brilliance contained in six one hour episodes. River, starring Stellan Skarsgård, Nicola Walker and Lesley Manville follows Detective Inspector John River, a Swedish born copper who has a “Sixth Sense” connection with victims and a dead serial killer who plagues him.
Loosely based upon the Jeff Goldblum 2007 American television series Raines (at least according to IMDb) this six parter is addictive viewing from the very first episode. Throughout the pilot, right up until River chases a drug dealer to his death, John (Skarsgård) and his female partner “Stevie” (Walker) talk, laugh, joke, and chase the suspect, although she is behind River in the pursuit. After the lad leaps off the high rise balcony, Stevie turns around and faces away from the camera and we learn that the back of her head is a gaping gunshot wound.
The shock of seeing that the detective has been interacting with a dead woman immediately fires up the imagination and makes Stellan’s performance something to be in awe of. Walker’s portrayal of the dead copper is also noteworthy, these two are beyond brilliant together. The storyline, where River tries to catch his partner’s killer, keeps the viewer guessing.
River has three different directors, who helm two episodes apiece and is written by Abi Morgan. The directors, Richard Laxton, Tim Fywell and Jessica Hobbs all move the action and the story along adeptly and the entire experience is compelling to the extreme.
Skarsgård is infinitely watchable as the detective who “hears voices” and the actor is believable as a cop, from his purposeful stride to the looks of thunder that cross his countenance when angered. The actor has played a broad range of characters in his career thus far. (He made an excellent villain in The Glass House (2001) where he was actually very impressive as the non-benevolent foster parent.)
Stollen’s performance is captivating and riveting. As is his “dead” co-star Walker. As Stevie, she is funny, irreverent, addictive, puzzling and heart achingly candid. All of the main characters are touching, in their own ways.
Lesley Manville, as River’s boss Read, is a 50 something career woman who is driven to extremes by her “odd” detective. Owen Teale, as the commander of the precinct, Marcus, is snarky and annoying, yet still is able to be more human than irritant, although not all the time.
Marcus’ romantic interest, the unit psychiatrist Rosa Fallows (Georgina Rich) is another multi-level character with shades and nuances that keep her interesting, even before she and River clash repeatedly.
Eddie Marsan (who literally seems to be in everything at the moment) plays the serial killer Dr. Thomas Cream, who haunts DI River throughout the six episodes. A Victorian poisoner, Cream murdered prostitutes with various concoctions, the killer attempts to dredge up the detective’s baser instincts.
The cop not only sees each murder victim, but he also speaks with “live” suspects, as manifestations. Initially, it appears that River has some sort of supernatural connection with the victims, later is is revealed that the cop interjects his own “reality” to each vision he interacts with…or does he?
River is a brilliant bit of detective fiction that borders on the supernatural yet firmly entrenches itself in the psychosis of those who hear voices. Is it a coincidence that each time the detective sees and hears a “manifestation” the fluorescent lights flicker and buzz? It is never discussed, by Rosa or anyone else in the show, but the running theme is that River is mentally troubled.
Stevie, in one long diatribe with her former partner, runs down a long list of euphemisms that all stand for insanity; barking, nutty-nut, March hare and so on. All of Stevie’s family also maintain that River is crazy.
As the episodes head toward a conclusion, one where the detective finds his partner’s killer, it would seem to be a special sort of madness. One that enables the investigator to see things differently and through the eyes, and mind, of the victims help to find the dead some closure.
There are several surrealistic moments, Karaoke, disco songs and a dance in the street with a corpse are just some of the scenes which stick out in this brilliant BBC One offering. River is streaming on American Netflix at the moment and I defy anyone to watch just one episode and not be immediately compelled to watch the six episode season to its finish.
If any complaint could be levied against the series, perhaps the pristine condition of the trains used in the show are a tad unrealistic. After repeatedly using the rail system, including the Underground, I have personally never seen carriages or platforms look that clean or freshly painted and decorated.
Tourist board complaints aside, River, on Netflix, offers six hours of addictive story telling with characters that are compelling and memorable. Miss this and miss out on great television.