Crime dramas are ten-a-penny these days. Our fascination in the murky macabre world of what forces people to commit some of the most heinous crimes are what keep these stories relevant. In Channel 4’s Deadwater Fell, David Tennant dips his toe into the new four-part true crime series which promises to keep its storyline bleak from the very first episode.
Set within a small village in Scotland, Tennant plays the village GP Tom, respected and loved amongst the villagers. Married to Kate (Anna Madeley), a primary school teacher, they also have three young daughters. On the surface, this family seem to be the picture of happiness. However, after one night the illusions of happiness and contentment are shattered as the community is drawn to Kate and Tom’s family home in the forest by the flicker of flames and the smell of smoke. Amid the confusion of the house fire, Kate and her three children are found dead, and Tom, who is found alive, is rushed to the hospital. It soon becomes apparent, however, that Kate and her children weren’t killed in the fire and the village realises that something unspeakable has happened.
So what makes this any different to what’s come before? Firstly the fact that women are at the forefront from the beginning of the show, not only as a victim with underlying mental health issues but from script to behind the camera too. Written and created by Daisy Coulam, a fresh perspective and thought-provoking drama was at the top of the list when creating the show.
“We spoke to a criminal psychologist; we spoke to a police adviser and other professionals. Though we wanted the series to be realistic, it is a fictional drama and we wanted to do something that was original and touched on the themes you see in a slightly different way.
“We weren’t just following tropes, I suppose. We wanted to be thought-provoking and to shine a new light on some of the issues that viewers see throughout the series.”
The plotline may seem like this series is pretty straight forward but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Also embedded deep in the tragic setting are Tom and Kate’s best friend and colleague Jess (Cush Jumbo) and her husband Steve (Matthew McNulty), the village’s local policemen. Sifting through the aftermath of the killer fire comes flashback sequences where we witness the bond built between the two couples and ultimately how Kate and Jess’s friendship could be a contributing factor to unravelling the mystery and giving the victim a voice.
He may be a star of the show but Tennant also has acted as executive producer on the series, marking it as his first time in this capacity. What helped with making that decision to be involved at that level was the nuanced path the script took.
“This script arrived and it was all the things that you see, compelling, ambiguous and hard to pin down. It was a thriller but it wasn’t a thriller, it was a psychological drama, these characters were so vivid and yet they slightly slip through your fingers. There is something about the way Daisy wrote that first episode, which was the first script I had read which was unlike anything else, it sort of had the trappings of a thriller but it was something more than that, something more subtle than that.”
With any mini-series the question arises how invested can we really be in something that short, Tennant promises the 4 part show will suck you in from the very beginning and will have you guessing every step of the way.
“The story you think you’re being told at the end of episode one is not the story that you realise you’re being told in episode two, which again is not the story you thought you were in the midst of when you get to episode three,” he said.
“Whatever you think the story is, it will confound you, compel you and surprise you”.
Deadwater Fell airs 9pm on Channel 4 from Friday 10th January.