Acorn Media // 2013 // 306 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // September 24th, 2013
"We're very alike, you and me...Both driven by will to power, a desire to control everything and everyone -- obsessive, ruthless, living and breathing moral relativism. It's just you're bound by conventional notions of what's right and wrong, and I'm free."
There are plenty of TV procedurals that deal with serial killers, but few like BBC Two's The Fall. Created by Allan Cubbit and set in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the series spends as much time with the killer as the police who are hunting him. The result is less thriller and more character study, building over the course of five episodes not just a murder case but also a complex villain and hero. After a successful TV run in the UK and a streaming U.S. debut, the series finally arrives on DVD as The Fall: Series 1, courtesy of Acorn Media.
After a series of murders in Belfast stymies the local police, they bring over Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson, Hannibal) from London to help catch the killer (Jamie Dornan, Once Upon a Time) -- a sadistic monster who leads a surprisingly normal life.
The Fall stars Gillian Anderson, an actress best known for playing a different kind of investigator on The X-Files. Chicago-born Anderson might seem like an odd choice to head up a major BBC series, but she's the perfect choice for reasons that go beyond her considerable talent. When she was an infant, Anderson's family moved to London where she lived for more than a decade. She lost her British accent after moving back to the States, but not entirely -- as she proves with a natural performance that's one of the best things about this series. She plays Gibson as cool and determined, channeling her inner Jane Tennison, with hints of a past lived in moral grey areas. Although effective in bringing the police closer to an arrest her arrival in Belfast upends life for other people, including a chief constable (John Lynch, In the Name of the Father) with whom she once had a relationship, a young policewoman (Niamh McGrady, Holby City) she mentors, and a handsome detective (Ben Peel, Hunger) who might be involved in some shady activities.
On the other side of the law is Jamie Dornan's Paul Spector, a respected grief counselor and family man with a dark secret. We first see Spector breaking into the house of a woman he is stalking, going through her things and taking creepy photos in her bedroom. He leaves his victim's flat and heads home, arriving just in time to tuck his young son back into bed with a kiss. The revelation of Spector's family life is an early indication that The Fall isn't bound by audience expectations. Spector is a contradiction, sliding back and forth between sympathetic father and husband and repugnant misogynist. Like Dexter, only deeper, The Fall paints a fascinating portrait of a high-functioning psychopath. At times, the series' desire to have it both ways gets in the way of a believable story, but it's more interesting than if the writers had played it safe.
Setting the series in Belfast allows for more than just a new set of accents. The Northern Ireland city feels different from the English urban locations of so many BBC shows. While a vibrant port city with striking architecture and lush gardens, it also carries the scars of Catholic-Protestant violence that claimed many innocent lives. Even today, it's important to know which streets are safe for outsiders to walk down and which aren't. DSI Gibson and Spector's cat-and-mouse game plays out against this simmering backdrop, with the struggle playing into side plots that will no doubt play a larger role when The Fall returns for a second series in 2014.
The Fall: Series 1 sports a sharp 1.78:1 transfer even in standard def, painting Belfast in bold greens and greys. The dark scenes -- and there are plenty -- are a bit problematic, but it's a well-shot modern crime series. Audio is in stereo only but the mix is clear and strong. The DVD comes with just one bonus feature, a 12-minute "Behind the Scenes" featurette that covers the story, development, and casting -- with special focus on Anderson and Dornan.
The Fall continues a proud tradition of British crime dramas, boasting not only strong lead performances from Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan but also a structure that subverts expectations about what serial killer stories should be -- showing us the murderer's family life as more normal than we're comfortable watching, and a police force in danger of crumbling from within. These first five riveting episodes didn't need to end with cliffhanger to make Series 2 feel too far away.
Belfast and proud. Not guilty!
Review content copyright © 2013 Erich Asperschlager; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 306 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site