A tragedy in a rural village that reveals the secrets of that small town is a very particular crime genre that has provided the general framework (be it Scottish, English, Welsh) for decades of UK television. But instead of reveling in melodrama or a mind-boggling number of twists, Deadwater Fell (from Grantchester’s Daisy Coulam), tells a short, refreshingly straight-forward story of a crime that reverberates through the souls of those who thought they knew the victims, and the perpetrator, better than they did.
David Tennant stars as Tom Kendrick, the lone survivor of a house fire in a Scottish town that killed his wife Kate (Anna Madeley) and their three young daughters. From the start, though, there are clues that this was no accident, and like any good crime drama, the first episodes call almost every character into question. Interweaving the present with flashbacks that provide increasing context into Kate and Tom’s relationship, the couple’s close friend Jess Milner (Cush Jumbo) begins to suspect there is more hidden here than the police seem to realize. But she’s dealing with her own issues, as she and her boyfriend Police Sergeant Steve Campbell (Matthew McNulty) attempt another emotionally-taxing round of IVF.
Deadwater Fell, though somewhat obtusely named, is a quiet four-part series that intertwines Jess’ personal pain with the closeness she has with Steve’s children from his first marriage, alongside her work at a local school which is where she first met Kate. The series lightly touches on a number of interesting threads, from Tom and Kate’s secrets to the grief that the other children feel at the loss of their friends, to issues of control and manipulation. But it also knows that sometimes just a suggestion or a brief reveal are enough. The series could easily have been blown out to 8 or 10 parts, but it would have been worse for it. Instead, Deadwater Fell is a compelling mystery and emotional, psychologically-tinged story that knows when to play its cards, take the win, and leave the table.
The themes of control and manipulation are, in some ways, analogous to another great recent crime drama, The Cry, starring Jenna Coleman (available on Sundance Now). Without giving too much away in either series, both reveal their difficult truths slowly, in ways that will call upon viewers’ own bias for and against certain parties. Both series also feature women who struggle with postpartum depression, chronicling that pain in raw and honest ways as they (and we) are told everything is going to be just fine by their charismatic, bearded husbands, if they can just pull it together. And yet, nothing is ever exactly as it seems.
Deadwater Fell is available in the US via the streaming service Acorn TV, which is actually full of these kinds of crime stories as well as much lighter fare for Anglophiles. The service is also currently featuring a 30-day free trial, which is a very good reason to check out Deadwater Fell. This small-town crime story is particularly heavy, given that it includes the deaths of children, but it is also a story that isn’t interested so much in the whodunnit (which, for savvy viewers, will be clear fairly early on) so much as the why and what it means. Coulam provides a satisfying ending that doesn’t suggest another season, content to close this story through final (perhaps slightly rushed) revelations tinged with hope. For fans of crime dramas, that is exactly what we come for.
Deadwater Fell premieres Monday, April 6th on Acorn TV, with new episodes airing weekly.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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