Belfast Telegraph

The Fall finale: So long, Stella - your presence made such compulsive television

As Belfast’s dark crime drama heads towards a tense conclusion, our columnist hails its star

By Fionola Meredith

In the dark netherworld of The Fall, Gillian Anderson shines steadily. As the inscrutable Stella Gibson, Anderson has been the engine of the crime drama's success.

Quite simply, she acts everyone else off the screen. Now the finale is imminent, and tonight we will learn whether DSI Gibson will finally get her man - behind bars, that is.

The intensity of Gibson's determination to nail Paul Spector (Ulsterman Jamie Dornan) was fully expressed in the closing scene of last night's episode.

But she didn't need words. Her steady, inexorable gaze as she sat opposite Spector, while he was confronted with crucial new evidence against him, was enough.

And it seemed as though that gaze had penetrated Spector's formidable defences, because he winced and looked away.

"The police have been clever," the supposedly amnesiac murderer admitted afterwards to his solicitor. "They have something on me that I can actually remember."

The presence that Anderson gives to the role of Gibson ensured that The Fall became compulsive viewing for crime drama fans.

It also brought her undeniable star quality to Belfast, and a little of that has rubbed off on the city.

Of course, Belfast was always going to be more than just the backdrop to the action. As John Lynch, who plays ACC Jim Burns, has observed in the past, the city has many "trapdoors to darkness", a powerful sense of recent history that remains close to the surface.

"Out of that shadow of death, this very unusual killer emerges. Belfast carries that resonance, and I think it's totally believable that the city would spawn somebody as cocky and as lethal as Paul Spector," he said.

Without Anderson, however, I'm not convinced that the series would have taken off in the way it did. It was Anderson, as Stella, in Belfast, in thrall to Dornan's serial killer, that provided the magic ingredients that made it all work. Everything else was secondary.

If Belfast has reason to be grateful to Anderson, it's not just for the profile. The Fall has benefited the city financially too, underscoring its growing reputation as a prime destination for films and film-making.

Allan Cubitt, the creator of The Fall, was so convinced of Anderson's fit for the role that he wrote the part of Gibson with her in mind. And Anderson has often spoken about how much of a connection she feels with the character.

"I like Stella a lot," she said. "I really like her. I felt I understood her without being told anything."

She was quick to defend Cubitt from the repeated claims that The Fall, with its high female body count, is inherently misogynistic.

"Allan's intention has never been in any way to exploit, or be explicit in how women are represented," said Anderson.

"He's not condoning it, it's grounded in reality. Allan has done so much research on serial killers and their psychology.

"We are paying attention to the deep, deep tragedy of violence against women … he gets the audience to question their own ethics."

In return, Cubitt praised Anderson - who became an executive producer of the show - as "particular and meticulous … an intuitive and emotionally powerful actor. No-one could render the character better."

She has played Lily Bart in The House of Mirth and Miss Havisham in the BBC's adaptation of Great Expectations, as well as blowing the socks off critics with her London stage role as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.

But it's as Dana Scully in the X Files - a job she landed when she was just 25 - that Anderson made her first and most lasting impression on me.

Despite her young age, Anderson turned Scully into a rounded, dynamic and formidable character who was fully capable of putting Mulder (played by David Duchovny) in his place when necessary, sometimes with nothing more than a wry and well-timed raised eyebrow.

She was the scientific rationalist to Mulder's credulous dreamer, and I see some of Scully's authority in Anderson's interpretation of Gibson. Roles where women get to be smarter than the men are still woefully rare, so you appreciate them when they do come along.

I hope that DSI Stella Gibson will prevail tonight, and bring the Belfast Strangler to justice. But whatever happens, Anderson is always worth watching.

It's been good to have her here in Belfast, casting a little light into the darkness.

Belfast Telegraph


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