Four reasons to watch 'Southcliffe'

Need an excuse to watch the drama of the year? We take a look at what makes Channel 4's latest triumph so good

This is turning into a vintage year for Channel 4 drama – always at its best when it has provoked, baffled, stimulated and infuriated. As the superb ‘Southcliffe’ begins, we examine how it brings the best of both the broadcaster’s illustrious past and its increasingly striking present to create the drama of the year.

It's controversial ‘Queer as Folk’ and ‘Complicit’
While ‘QAF’ and ‘Complicit’ waded into debates around sexuality and race, the subject-matter of 'Southcliffe' – a shooting spree in a quiet Kentish market town – has already baited the tabloids. But the killings (and killer) are handled sensitively, never disguising the fact that this is really about grieving and our relationship to death.

It's pertinent ‘Run’ and ‘GBH’
Just as ‘GBH’ explored the vicious ambience of Thatcherism and ‘Run’ shone a light into the darkest, most hopeless corners of our city, ‘Southcliffe’ dares to reckon with one of our current sacred cows. Do we fetishise our military to an unhealthy degree? And as we do so, are we really aware of the toll army life takes on the people involved? Expect the debate to run and run. Just how C4 likes it…

It has smart casting ‘Boy A’ and ‘My Mad Fat Diary’
‘Boy A’ gave Andrew Garfield his break and ‘MMFD’s’ Sharon Rooney will next be seen in ‘Sherlock’, no less. Both tyros played opposite seasoned pros (Peter Mullan and Ian Hart, respectively) and ‘Southcliffe’ does the same.

The programme showcases ‘Skins’ alumni Joe Dempsie and Kaya Scodelario (Dempsie in particular is spectacular as a returning squaddie feeling the slow onset of post-traumatic stress) opposite the oft-underrated likes of Rory Kinnear (bigshot reporter returning to his hometown), Sean Harris (ex-soldier with ill mum and troubled past), and Shirley Henderson and Eddie Marsan (married couple under strain).

It's weird ‘Utopia’ and ‘Cold Lazarus’
The story of ‘Southcliffe’ might sound straightforward, but with Tony ‘Red Riding’ Grisoni scripting and Sean Durkin – one of the hottest young US directors around after ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’ – behind the camera, it’s as profoundly unsettling a viewing experience as graphic-novel nightmare ‘Utopia’ or Dennis Potter swansong ‘Cold Lazarus’.

Capturing the sense of a small, isolated community where people know enough of each others’ secrets to pry but not enough of them to really help, it marries a disjointed yet controlled narrative to artfully murky visuals that throb with menace and melancholy.

‘Southcliffe’ begins Sunday August 4, 9pm, C4, and will be available on 4oD.

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Episode one

  • Rated as: 5/5

Tony ‘Red Riding’ Grisoni’s unsettling, elusive story winds back to tell us a little about the killer, his quarries and the oppressively closeknit yet isolating quality of many small communities.

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Episode two

  • Rated as: 5/5

‘Southcliffe’ is looking like the new gold standard for TV drama – 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 feels safe nowhere.

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Episode three

  • Rated as: 5/5

Given that the worst has already happened, you’d think that ‘Southcliffe’s’ awful tension might start to dissipate. But somehow, Tony Grisoni’s startling drama is managing to maintain it. Maybe that’s what these situations are like.

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