It’s already been a superb year for TV drama. But two episodes in, ‘Southcliffe’ is looking like the new gold standard – a bravura, truly unique small-screen achievement in the making. The genius is in the pacing and chronology: the narrative pivots, slips, leaps ahead, slides back. Soon, the viewer – like the residents of this benighted town – feels safe nowhere.
Tonight, we meet social worker Claire (Shirley Henderson) and her loving, anxious husband Andrew (Eddie Marsan). Claire is hypersensitive, depressive and anticipating a nasty bout of empty-nest syndrome when her daughter Anna spreads her wings. This family in crisis are empathetically and realistically drawn and realised – instead of the cheap drama of blazing rows, they radiate a very relatable mixture of love, fear and confusion. But, in common with everyone else in town, their quotidian worries are about to be put into perspective. Not easy viewing, but all the same, startling, bleak and audacious television.