Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 April 2014

The Fall: Women the victims as TV drama shows its predictable side

Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan starring in a crime drama sounds like a cop buddy movie with benefits. But The Fall is altogether more disturbing, says Frances Burscough

DSI Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson)
DSI Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson)

I first heard about the TV drama The Fall more than a year ago, when it was being filmed in Belfast. I had a tip-off that Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan were in town, working on a major crime thriller. To say my curiosity was piqued would be an understatement.

Of course, no-one was giving anything away.

All I knew was it was a drama about a serial killer at large in the city. I couldn't wait.

Then finally, last Monday night, the waiting was over.

And it was absolutely, irredeemably, sado-masochistically shocking.

I had automatically assumed that Anderson and Dornan would be playing alongside each other. That's all part of the tried-and-tested formula we are so used to on TV.

Two attractive detectives working together (with a strong element of sexual tension between them) to hunt down a deranged psycho killer, with a freaky appearance and from a horribly dysfunctional family. You know the story. It's been done to death a thousand times.

But no. Drop-dead gorgeous Dornan – a model who's more often seen in Vogue advertising Calvin Klein, or Hugo Boss – IS the serial killer.

From the moment we discover this in the opening scenes, all bets are off. Nothing about this production is going to be predictable.

Dornan's character, Paul Spector, is tall, dark, handsome, fit. He looks like every woman's (or gay man's) dream. But, instead, he's a living nightmare.

From the outset, we are drawn into Spector's secret life of sado-masochistic obsessions and invited to become his willing voyeurs.

We are turned into kinky collaborateurs as a hand-held camera follows closely while he breaks into a woman's home and pervs over the contents of her underwear drawer.

And, as If that wasn't disturbing enough in itself, then comes the real bombshell: the same man who's pre-planning another despicable attack on a beautiful, vulnerable female is actually a respected social worker and caring family man.

By day, he counsels grief-stricken couples, who are coping with loss; by night, he's a doting dad and husband.

He does all the normal things a loving dad does: he plays games with the kids, he reads to them, he teases them, he laughs at their jokes and claps when they perform.

Indeed, the only distinguishing thing about him is that he is so abnormally handsome.

He's the one guy you see in a bar and you immediately fancy.

This is an intentional part of the story and pivotal to the plot.

Wherever he goes, women throw themselves at him.

This isn't another Leatherface. Or a Hannibal the Cannibal.

You are asked to accept Spector as a normal bloke, doing a normal job, leading a normal life, but with horribly abnormal urges that he doesn't even try to control.

The Fall doesn't give us a whodunnit.

It gives us a what-the-heck-and-why-the-hell-dunnit.

Spector clearly could have his pick of women.

So why the breaking and entering?

The perving over his victim's knicker drawer?

The shocking, just-past-the-watershed-and-no-more violence?

The violent scenes in The Fall are genuinely, breathtakingly shocking.

The violence – and its ugly aftermath – is depicted graphically in the extreme.

Strong, successful women are reduced to objects; debased, abused, terrified, tortured and then discarded.

Just what is it about modern television drama and near-pornographic violence against women?

Meanwhile, Anderson's DSI Stella Gibson is portrayed as a kind of predator herself.

She slugs back bottles of wine, while poring over graphic photos from a murder scene – almost, it seems, for twisted pleasure as much as professionalism.

Later, she spots a handsome police officer and blithely propositions him without a second thought.

Paul Spector and DSI Gibson are both portrayed as obsessed, predatory; both hunting their prey with a cold and detached manner, devoid of any emotion.

So what next? Will Spector begin to stalk Stella?

Or will the hunter become the hunted?

I seriously doubt it (that would be far too predictable).

But, whatever it is, you can expect it to come slathered in revolting violence against women.

Is this what the 3.5 million people who tuned in on Monday really want from prime-time TV drama? Time – and the ratings – will tell.

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