Southcliffe – All Souls – Series 1, episode 4

Neela Debnath

southcliffe 300x199 Southcliffe – All Souls   Series 1, episode 4

(Channel 4)

SPOILERS: Do not read this if you have not seen episode 4, series 1 of ‘Southcliffe’

I’ve trudged through this bog of despair searching for closure and answers. Tonight was the final episode of Southcliffe and instead of a conclusion I found myself wading further and further into this murky swamp of gloom.

All Souls picked up the story a year on from the shootings. Journalist David Whitehead (Rory Kinnear) returned to the town after he was sent a disturbing letter promising more violence. Claire Salter (Shirley Henderson) and her husband Andrew (Eddie Marsan) were still struggling to cope with the death of her daughter. Equally, ex-squaddie Chris Cooper (Joe Dempsie) was falling to pieces.

Tonight the story really started to unfurl and develop. There was human trafficking and a moment of domestic violence. I wanted to see more but none of it went anywhere, much like Claire’s failed rescue attempt. It was all just another dose of misery: from Claire piercing her nipple using a safety pin to Chris trying to kill himself.

From the outset Southcliffe promised gripping drama and I’ve been watching from the edge of my seat to see how things develop but they never do. This series needed at least another four episodes to really explore the characters.

Added to this were the huge chunks that viewers had to fill in themselves. While some drama series challenge the viewer by offering clues and letting the audience fill in a few gaps, Southcliffe takes things too far. It is incomprehensible. The audience was essentially given a series of loosely connected vignettes and told to figure it out from that.

Watching Southcliffe has been like trying to put together a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle except that most of the pieces are missing, apart from the corners, the edges and a couple in the middle. To add insult to injury, some cretin has walked off with the box so I don’t have a clue what the final picture is supposed to look like.

Then there is the misery TV element of it. I thought I was getting a handle on this new genre but on reaching the end of Southcliffe I’m just as miffed as before. Are our own lives so terrible that we need to watch other human beings suffer in such abject misery?  It would seem so.

Clearly EastEnders just isn’t hitting the spot like it used to. Now we need our misery to be highbrow, shot artistically in HD to catch every tear glisten as it slides down a cheek. We have to make sure that every excruciating moment is captured and that the characters are placed in the most horrific situations imaginable. We need the finest crop of British actors involved to make us believe it and really feel their ‘pain’. To top off it, there has to be a grey filter to wash away any hint of warmth. This is misery TV. We don’t do smiles.

It would be far easier to install HD CCTV cameras in care homes and prisons. Why not live stream it as well? None of that Panorama hidden camera rubbish. Watch Mrs Jones being starved while a carer wolfs down her lunch. Or see prisoner X get attacked with a shiv by a gang of fellow inmates after the lights go out – on night vision!

I find the whole concept of misery TV rather depraved. It’s a horrendous viewing experience. This is not entertainment. This is not thought-provoking. I have learned nothing new. By the end of Southcliffe I have a hollowed-out feeling. Any cheer or joy has been sucked out of me. If this was the mission statement then Southcliffe you have left me broken.

There is no denying that the performances have been spot on with Sean Harris as the deranged shooter and Shirley Henderson and Eddie Marsan as the grieving couple. While Rory Kinnear is great as the emotionally scarred hack coming to terms with Southcliffe tragedies past and present.

I appreciate the magnificent performances, the beautiful aesthetics and the topical plot but it’s too bleak for my liking. With 24-hour rolling news tragedies only a flick of a channel away, watching misery TV is simply crass and gratuitous.

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  • Hope

    Southcliffe was really terrible self indulgement media bubble tv.

    It was flagged as being about the effect of grief on a community after a tradegy, but in fact was another uninteresting, uninspiring white male lead character, who used the terrible event to sort out some of his own demons.

    I cannot understand what would posses someone to think they could so cynically use real life events to concoct a story about a plainly selfish and self absorbed man to resolve his child hood bullying.

    The characters were all one dimensional and relied on every cliche in the book. The filming was hackneyed.

    At least the misery of the Mill can be justified as it is based on the real life experiences of those enslaved in the mills of slave owners.

    Last nights finale was a triumph of what would now be trivialised as girl power, but then was an astonishing act of courage by young women disempowered and silenced by society.

    It deserved the 9 o’clock slot.

    Southcliffe should have been shunted onto ITV4 with the rest of the silly adolescent programming.

  • voicechap

    Interesting. i hate to ask the question, but what was the nature of the tragedy in your own experience that allows you to understand the truth of a parent/child/lover in this type of situation?

    My own is based on a hit and run, and none of those in the same level of relationships as portrayed in this fiction behaved in this manner. No, not even behind closed doors.

    I did particularly enjoy the irony of the announcement at the end, offering counselling to those affected by events in the drama. How different that no one in the town seemed to be offered counselling, when it was seen to be very much a part of the type of events on which the show was based.

    I suppose that’s the problem when you offer an ultra realistic style – yes, including the absence of facts and conclusions: discrepancies from the truth of realistic experience tend to stand out more.

    Especially, Gods save us, when we have had so much of the real thing on the news channels to observe.

    Good work from the actors though.

  • Bear Hug

    Southcliffe was brilliant. Much more than a commentary on society and community – which is often indeed shallow – and not just about misery. We make the society we are part of – and Southcliffe showed how we often do that totally unthinkingly – careless of the potential consequences of our actions. Bravo Channel 4.

  • ALFB

    ’southcliffe’ is a germination; a virus of sorts, which sees david (the disgraced reporter) pulled back time and again, the same weight which causes a man’s frail mind to be swamped with the notion that ‘morton’ is still out in the marshes… and he is… he’s all over the town. he was there, metaphorically, when david’s father died as a child – the resulting cover-up….

    the claustrophobic duty and bleakness of that community. they closed their ranks to accusations of responsibility or reason regarding the killing spree – indeed chris, called “the perfect soldier” by a family member after his wife is murdered in bed beside him, is reduced to “mush” by that same uncle. his refusal to live up to that patriotic small-minded preoccupation with british duty (for what? for southcliffe?) highlights the reduction in his status. the parallels are obvious… the juxtaposition between himself and ‘the commander’; both reduced for incapacity, having both been failed by southcliffe (morton’s treatment & torment as a laughing stock, left impoverished watching his helpless mother die – chris’ reduction in stock, from hero-warrior soldier to grief-stricken, shell shocked mush; both worthless to the southcliffe stock)

    he understands that southcliffe is responsible for its own misery; a cycle of events that repeats ad infinitum… not morton. therefore he plans to exact revenge upon the town, the concept of bulldog-middle-england – to show the true ugliness beneath the personification of little-england’s postcard places. he becomes the commander until a previous victim puts pay to the southcliffe germination, stops it spreading through intervention… david stops chris (although his bullying of morton & andrew identify his responsibility as the nucleus for these events)…

    the theme of the victim is important… the town is a victim, assured working-class soldiers are the victims… the sought-after prostitute is a victim but isn’t saved soon enough… she becomes eclipsed and is in turn consumed by southcliffe… supplying her own offspring to it’s well-ground mechanics…

    I could go on for hours and hours about this incredibly important drama… there’s far more to it… I just needed to lift this stream-of-conciousness dialogue from my mind’s narration. it’s been on repeat since last night.

  • DNACowboy

    I did some research into communities where real life gun sprees have occurred and they all were seriously damaged in some way. All that the authorities ended up doing was penalising law-abiding gun owners in an attempt to cover up abject failures by the police, local communities and the state.

  • Jack Cooke

    To Voicechap I have been struck with close tragedy in my life. Be it that it wasnt a murder or hit and run as in your case I stake a claim to have witnessing life changing tragedy. Without disclosing too much I saw the break down of the family and deterioration and bringing them to the brink.

    For me the reflection of Chris Cooper wanting to take his own life over the responsibility of the death of his wife. This story reminded me of a story (when I get a link to an article ill post it) a mother had ditched her 15 year old Daughter whilst back packing in Thailand, the Daughter wound up raped and murdered, that was the tragedy, the step father a year later commited suicide due to grief. This is the first thing that rang in my mind when I had watched this scene.

    Not everyone deals with everything the same and perhaps such tragedies don’t always stir people to the dealing with the grief reflected in this last episode but they have brought together several stories and real life stories into one drama that’s the point of story telling.

    It is quite clear I am a minority in what I saw on screen but it seem everyone was content with the killing and murder but not withe the drama a the personal lives of these families.
    To Andrew: As for unexplained flashbacks etc am I the only one that pieces it all together. We saw a backstory of Stephen and David becoming friends both social outcasts but both deal with there resentment I very different ways in later life. This is why the story hit him so hard because he instead just how cruel a town like that can be if your the social outcast or can be picked on for whatever reason.

    I never felt confused and felt it was daring writing and daring direction perhaps a bit too daring for most but I excepted every bit bit of it and understood these series of events

  • andrew goodman

    Well i am sorry Jack, but if you found this entertaining then Good Luck to You but for me and many others i found the whole thing was leading us nowhere and the characters plights apart from Sean Harris’s were a complete waste of time as this Drama had absolutely nothing going for it whatsoever.
    1. What happened after the Guy who threw himself over the Bridge into Traffic with his Family.
    2. What was that ridiculous and weird story with the Girl who pierced her Nipple and tried to Help a Romanian Girl
    3.We were led to Believe Steven Morton was still alive and was expecting a Big Twist but was left more baffled than ever as it ended with no one any the wiser.
    4.Another Weird story with the Soldier who had his girlfriend shot in the Shootings.

    The whole thing was 4 Hours of a Complete SHAMBLES!!!!!

  • Jack Cooke

    As I said I’m a minority in appreciating this Drama we obviously took very different things from it and that’s what mediums like TV do so I appreciate what your saying I just think nothing was lost on me.

    Also I think the word entertaining is to be used very loosely I can’t say I was entertained as such as there is no sense of enjoyment from such misery. Also this story was not Stephen Mortons story it was the town of Southcliffes story which it delivered. And I never felt any of the loose ends needed definitive on screen tie ups I was happy to read between the lines as I felt it was clear enough. I never expected any twist a lot of cases like this attract hacks with conspiracy theories and that was what the role of the old cop represented i never expected it to come to anything. I would say however i appreciated the storytelling. I wouldn’t watch it again but glad I did the first time round.

    I can understand the backlash I just don’t agree whole heartedly

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