RIVER

PrintE-mail Written by Paul Mount

Having scored considerable critical and audience success following their acquisition of so-called ‘Nordic Noir’ Scandanavian crime dramas airing on BBC4, it’s perhaps not surprising that the Corporation might hanker after creating something of their own in a similar genre. Enter River, written and created by the prolific Abi Morgan, a moody, brooding Police procedural which introduces us to troubled Police officer DI John River who doesn’t exactly see dead people; he sees what he describes as ‘manifests’, visions of the dead, most persistent of which is his recently-deceased former professional partner DS Jackie Stevenson (Nicola Walker), brutally shot to death in a cold London street. To add a dash of verisimilitude to the project, the BBC cast Swedish star Stellan Skarsgard (Dr Selvig in the Thor and Avengers movies) and, presumably, sat back and waited for the ratings to skyrocket.

Sadly though, River has run aground in the UK with viewing figures hovering around the two million mark.  It’s really not all that difficult to see why. Superficially River bears all the hallmarks of the sort of  fairly traditional ‘troubled detective’ dramas British TV remains bizarrely obsessed with but dig a little deeper and it’s clear that there’s a bit more going on here and it’s probably that which has chased away the mainstream audience.  Despite the presence of ‘manifests’ River’s production team are anxious to distance the show from any ‘supernatural’ associations, focussing instead on River’s mental and psychological problems; the show isn’t a traditional detective drama – although the central narrative deals with River’s obsessive determination to find his partner’s killer - but rather a series about one man’s own mental battleground and how his relationship with his own very visible demons affect those around him. But by God this is slow and ponderous stuff. Each episode crawls along at a snail’s pace, very little ever seems to happen (although it could be argued that the momentous event which sets off the story – “Stevie” Stevenson’s murder – has already occurred) and as the episodes wear on the show can’t resist opening up the private lives of each of its main Police characters – including River’s starchy boss DCI Chrissie Reed (Lesley Manville) – turning into a bit more of a soap opera than is likely was ever intended.

Despite its noirish affectations – there are lots of lingering, atmospheric shots of a grey, drizzly night-time London skyline (much of the show is filmed in the Docklands area) – River is, at its heart, a fairly run-of-the-mill detective show, albeit one with a bleak twist. Skarsgard lifts the show  out of the mundane with an affecting, impassioned performance and there are few better actresses currently working on British TV than former Spooks star Nicola Walker. But ultimately its lack of energy and gloomy narrative, along with a central driving conceit which a currently worryingly fantasy-averse British public has inevitably found just a bit too unpalatable in a genre where the tame Midsummer Murders still rules the roost, has left River all at sea.

Special Features: Making of / Being River / Creating Manifests / Deleted scenes

RIVER / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: VARIOUS / SCREENPLAY: ABI MORGAN / STARRING: STELLAN SKARSGARD, NICOLA WALKER, ADEEL AKHTAR, GEORGINA RICH, OWEN TEALE, LESLEY MANVILLE, EDDIE MARSAN/DATE OF RELEASE: NOVEMBER 23RD

 


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