Whenever the BAFTA television nominations come out, I’m always quite interested. I’m curious to see if what I like has been nominated, of course, but also I use them to identify shows from the past year that may have missed my notice. I’ve compiled a must-watch list and most of them are dramas so I decided to focus on that genre for this series of posts. I’m not nearly done watching and already I have gleaned some important lessons about the UK from the programmes I’ve seen so far.
My first choice to discuss is a mini-series called Southcliffe. With nominations for best supporting actor (Rory Kinnear), best supporting actress (Shirley Henderson), best actor (Sean Harris) and best mini-series, it ties with Broadchurch and The IT Crowd for most nominations this year. This four-part drama about a loner who goes on a shooting spree and how the victims’ families cope with the aftermath is a powerful reminder of the randomness and fragility of life.
These are some of my impressions and things I learned about the UK from Southcliffe.
(Beware! From this point on facts are revealed that some might consider to be spoilers.)
1. Mass shootings occur in the UK
I know that it may sound ignorant or naive to say I didn’t realize acts of violence on this scale were a problem in the UK. Sadly these type of events happen just about everywhere these days. And after a bit of research, I found mention of several mass shooting incidents across the UK that have taken place in the past 30 years or so – Cumbria, Hungerford, Monkseaton and, of course, of the Dunblane school massacre.
But before I watched Southcliffe, Britain was not a place that came to mind when I thought of gun violence. Mainly because I had always heard that, unlike in the States, gun ownership was more carefully regulated. In fact I understood many police officers don’t carry firearms. That may be an out-of-date misconception, but I just hadn’t seen many portrayals of the stereotypical “gun nut” you often see depicted in the US. To be honest, I’m sad to have that illusion shattered.
2. Kent equals gloomy
No offense to any readers from Kent. I’m certain your region of South East England is actually quite charming and picturesque. But whomever ordered the weather during the shoot of Southcliffe (particularly in the Faversham area) I’ve never seen more oppressive skies. It was always either foggy or slate grey. Very appropriate to the mood of the piece, but let’s just say it’s the perfect place to settle if want to see what seasonal affective disorder feels like. Could be the filters they used on the cameras I suppose… Also all those towering, crackling electricity pylons are plenty foreboding as well.
3. I was surprised at the strange variety of mechanisms for coping with grief
Grief is a universal human emotion and the strength of its hold on people can be devastating. In this mini-series, characters lost children, spouses, and parents in the bloodshed and the survivors manifested their torment is some quite unique ways. One father took pictures of his teenage daughter on the morgue slab while the mother of the same girl tried to infiltrate a brothel in an attempt to rescue a prostitute her daughter had asked her to save before her death. A man who lost his entire family tried to take his own life and that of his niece by lying down in front of an on-coming train. The same man had the wedding march played at his wife’s funeral while he stood at the front of the church in a suit of wedding clothes waiting for his bride to arrive in her casket.
Some family members played the British stiff upper lip card one might expect, but most acted out in unexpected ways that only a person in terrible emotional pain could comprehend.
4. British journalists are as manipulative as they say
From the bosses who assign the stories to the men and women reporting on the ground, news is a very competitive business. When David Whitehead (Rory Kinnear) is forced to return to his childhood home to bring his network a horrific story with a personal touch, he is none too pleased about it. But he knows the tricks to get people talking and how to shape a sensationalized story.
Unfortunately, David becomes the story when he hits roadblock after roadblock with people claiming there were no signs that the shooter, Stephen Morton, was a threat to the community. Whitehead’s anger with the town goes back to his youth when they turned a blind eye after his father was killed in an industrial accident and was falsely blamed for the deaths of several others in the same incident. He goes on a rant on live television saying the Southcliffe deserved what happened because they refused to see what’s in front of them.
Southcliffe was a promising series with some great performances particularly Shirley Henderson’s portrayal of a mother of one of the victims. Her non-stop calls to her daughter’s mobile was painfully familiar to witness, frantically refusing to acknowledge what she already knows in her heart to be true.
As much as I like the grittiness of British drama (and they do it very well) Southcliffe had no levity to counter the grit. No sun to hold back the gloom for awhile. What made the show unsatisfying is also probably what made it true to life. It didn’t tie up very many of the loose ends left hanging. No inspirational or feel-good Hollywood ending awaits the viewer. This story was less about answering why and more about showing us the reality of sudden, violent loss.
I’m not saying isn’t worth watching, just make sure you have a comedy on hand to counteract any hopeless malaise you may experience after viewing Southcliffe.