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Southcliffe – Hollow Shore – Series 1, episode 1

Neela Debnath

IMG0732 copy 300x199 Southcliffe – Hollow Shore   Series 1, episode 1

Sean Harris as Stephen Morton (Channel 4)

SPOILERS: Do not read this if you have not seen episode 1, series 1 of ‘Southcliffe’

What is it about Misery TV that’s proving to be so compelling? Despite leaving viewers feeling like they’ve been punched in the stomach by the end of each episode, they keep coming back for more. It’s something I’m trying to understand as I start watching Southcliffe, Channel 4’s new addition to the growing genre that is Misery TV.

Broadchurch it most definitely isn’t. If you’re expecting all the cosy conventions of a whodunit, switch over now. There is no Poirot or Miss Marple figure to solve the mystery. It’s hard-hitting, heart-breaking and bleaker than a mid-winter stroll through Hull.

The four-part drama is based on the 1987 Hungerford massacre and more recently the Whitehaven shootings involving gunman Derrick Bird. Southcliffe revolves around a small community shattered by a lone gunman going a killing spree after he is rejected by the locals. Unlike The Mill and The Village this bit of Misery TV is set in contemporary Britain and it is very much rural grit.

Tonight the audience was only fed titbits to whet the appetite but it’s safe to say we’ve barely scratched the surface of Southcliffe. And one thing’s for sure, there’s an abyss filled with misery to plunge into. Whether it’s adjusting to life away from the front line or caring for an elderly parent, this sense of gloom bleeds into each strand of life. Even Rory Kinnear’s journalist dreams of getting bullied during this school days while his father is branded a killer. No doubt this is yet another strand to be unravelled over the next three episodes. We’ve already seen the ending and it’s not a happy one.

Viewers met all of the main characters in part one. Along with the aforementioned hack, who has a few skeletons in his own closet, we were introduced to ex-Skins star Joe Dempsie as squaddie Chris Cooper and his Lily Allen lookalike wife Louise. Most importantly though we encountered the gunman, Stephen Morton, played by Sean Harris, who is no stranger to psychopathic characters. Harris played Ian Brady in a dramatization of the Moors murders and in Southcliffe he is equally as disturbing to watch as the ostracized weirdo with a twitchy trigger finger. He is just too convincing as a man on edge with those empty eyes that seem slightly glazed over. Then there is unkempt beard which looks like a dead woodland creature Morton has sewed onto his face, judging from Morton’s DIY tattoo attempt, it could be a possibility.

Writer Tony Grisoli has fragmented the chronology much like the shattered lives of the inhabitants of Southcliffe. This story is not about the outcome but the journey which is compelling in itself – even without the grey filter. I’m not completely sure about Southcliffe but it’s only just the beginning and I’m still puzzled as to the appeal of fictional schadenfreude. Indulging in a spot of Misery TV leaves me a little blue but there is plenty to chew on until tomorrow.

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