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The Fall: 101 “Dark Decent” Review


Reviewed by Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull.

Allan Cubitt’s new psychological thriller on BBC2 began with a strong premise that is gratifyingly intriguing, and with standout performances from its leading duo: Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan it hardly went wrong.

What would be obverse of the locution, attack on the senses?

The Fall presents itself like this: subtly, and discreetly, without any typical BBC fanfare; all we got in the past week or so was an interesting fifty-second trailer that divulged nothing about it. If the series continues in the vein of “Dark Descent”, then it could define the repeatedly hackneyed term psychological thriller. It’s so incredibly atmospheric, with tension in the air, so rich that you could cut it with a knife. The Fall gives us a thriller that is yet to be thrilling, and for some bizarre reason, in this case, that is very good.

From the opening minutes, that are wordless, we are introduced to our heroine: the Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson. We first see her in her natural habitat, her London boudoir wearing a lilac facemask and loungewear, cleaning the bathroom. It is entirely unglamorous, and so it should be, not all television coppers are androids that have either a crippling or no home-life. Later we see Stella in her hotel eating a hamburger whilst examining work on her laptop. She is relaxed, and well rounded, exactly how we want our star to be portrayed. The Detective Superintendent is entirely independent but still manages to force her suite number onto an attractive stranger.

Gibson is the hunter, and relationship/grief counsellor Paul Spector is the hunted (but he, in turn, is also a hunter). The twist in The Fall is that it isn’t a whodunit it’s a whydunit, and through the coming weeks we will discover why Spector is a predator who stalks professional thirtysomething women before eventually killing them. When Spector takes his young daughter and son to the local botanical gardens, he is doing it both to pleasure his children, and to stealthily pursue a female lawyer, Sarah Kay (Laura Donnelly). It is sick to think that a father would abuse an opportunity to bond with his children to spy on a potential victim. Paul’s mind is warped (he doodles a rough sketch of one of his work clients nude during one of their sessions) but he is a family man who really loves his offspring and spouse. This is a stark contrast that is incredibly unsettling, and furthers the moral that anyone you know could be capable of such villainy.

The most praiseworthy member of the cast and crew of The Fall is director Jakob Verbruggen who directs with the creative flair of Alfred Hitchcock. In Psycho, Hitchcock makes his audience feel very uncomfortable by having us (through the eyes of hotelier-cum-murderer Norman Bates) look through a peephole to watch Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane undress. We always get the sense that we are intruding on someone’s privacy, even in a public area, and that we are voyeurs. In one shot, Verbruggen pans across the Spector household from a bird’s eye angle; it’s as if we are peering into a dollhouse. To go back to the opening scene of Stella Gibson in her home, the starting shot is looking through a doorway (à la a ‘peeping tom’) at her.

Dark Descent” is, in short, quietly brilliant. Voyeuristic camerawork, a damn good performance from The X-Files’ Gillian Anderson and some seething tension set The Fall up to be a cracker of a series. Fingers crossed next week doesn’t disappoint.

Verdict: 9/10

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  • EternalDoctor

    This penetrative review made for a very delightful read, Pat. Your writing is, as always, top-notch and you’re a highly perceptive reviewer. I’m definitely pleased to see you back to reviewing!

    I have to admit – I haven’t heard of this series, but your praise for it has sparked an interest. I don’t think I’ll watch it online just yet, as I’d rather wait to see if your reviews continue to be positive, but I will watch it if it airs over here.

    • PK-Simeon

      Thanks, Tyler – I really appreciate it.

      When you say over here, does that mean you’re American? Heh, the thing’s you didn’t know about people.

      • EternalDoctor

        Worse. I live in an ominous realm where Doctor Who still hasn’t reached Series 7 and where Broadchurch has never graced the TV screens. I live in…. Norway!

        Although I am originally from England.

        • PK-Simeon

          I have heard of this dark land…



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