“How do you let go of a person if you don’t know why they’ve gone?” is the primary question asked in the BBC’s new police drama River. Title character, River (Stellan Skarsgård), has witnessed the death of his partner, and as a result is suffering from hallucinations of people around him whose deaths are seemingly unexplained. The use of horror sets the show apart from the multitude of other police dramas that monopolise the major channels.
Skarsgård provides an excellent performance in the first instalment of this six-part drama. His performance adds credibility to what could have so easily been a ridiculous role within this premise. His understated acting and quiet presence establishes a sense of his character, bringing so much more to the somewhat clichéd role of the moody policeman. His subtlety in conveying suppressed grief creates an unexpected empathy for the character.
One of the cleverest aspects of this drama was the seamless infusing of bittersweet humour, despite its apparent juxtaposition with the severity of the topic. The moments of comic relief, in the otherwise incredibly heavy atmosphere, serve, not only as a breather from the intensity of the drama, but also create a pathos surrounding River. Furthermore, poignant scenes such as him singing karaoke on his own whilst imagining his partner beside him contribute immensely to the sense of humanity running through the programme. This sense of humanity permeates the drama. The programme’s writer, Abi Morgan, has created a script that allows the audience to involve themselves, not only in the excitement of the plot, but also in the people within it. The characters are those with whom we can become emotionally involved, adding yet another layer to our understanding of this drama.
Whilst generally this drama seems to be cohesive in its approach, there are aspects which seem to grate with the overriding slick nature of the production. Primarily, one of River’s hallucinations is that of a 19th century murderer, and it is unclear how this is relevant to the plot or character. Perhaps we will see this further developed in later episodes, but for now it seems decidedly out of place.
Regardless, the interspersed moments of poignant humour in this intense crime drama makes River definitely worth a watch.