The Fall: Brilliant Acting Brings a Dark Tale to Life

A Potpourri of Vestiges Feature




Television from the British Isles has a somewhat deserved reputation for being bland, boring or simply difficult for foreigners to understand. The 2013 - 2016 series The Fall, however, is none of those things, and manages to entertain while exploring themes many of us would rather not think about.


Obsession, Longing and Unrestrained Impulses

Many modern classics are based on the idea that modern society is, in a fundamental sense, not in good health. In The Fall, this is illustrated through a battle of wits between a detective (played by Gillian Anderson) and a mentally disturbed serial killer portrayed by Jamie Dornan.

If this series had been produced in Hollywood, you would expect overblown characters, car chases, explosions and frankly improbable plot twists. The Fall has none of those. Instead, the cinematography tends towards the slow, meaningful development of a complex story through gradual exposition. If you have to hear a song or see a fight to know that a dramatic point is being made, this show is not for you. If, however, you find pleasure in seeing how every gesture and every facial expression contributes to telling what is a great – if troubling – story, you will not regret spending a few hours watching it.

Few Recognizable Faces but Fantastic Characterization

While Gillian Anderson will struggle to ever live down the X Files, she simply shines in the lead role here. She plays a self-assured, competent yet somewhat insecure police inspector called from London to investigate a murder in Belfast. The yang to her yin is Paul Spector, a complicated character who may have benefited from having access to a therapist or therapy earlier in his life.

There is little whodunit-style mystery involved: it's clear from the start that Spector is the killer. He is, however, not a social recluse who delights in torturing cats: he's handsome, works as a grief counselor, is (apparently) happily married and has two young children. He could literally be the person living next door to you, which adds rather than detracts from the psychological tension this series induces.

Why to Watch It

You would not watch The Fall for simple entertainment. It is, however, intellectual without being obnoxious, intelligent without being stilted and moral without being preachy. In many ways, watching this series is more like reading a book.

Women, in particular, will enjoy seeing a strong female lead portrayed in a meaningful way. Too many television series either neglect the idea that women can do “masculine” jobs completely, or seem to select their characters from a very small pool of cookie-cutter archetypes. Without giving away too much of the plot, I can reasonably say that all characters in The Fall are flawed in real ways – not to make them seem more endearing, just as real people have their faults.

Why Not to Watch It

This show is not intended for children, or even most adults. Although the main focus is psychological, the scenes of torture and violence it contains are likely to offend many people. Some pretty dark philosophy is referenced – the killer, Spector, reads Nietsche, while the title of the show is derived from the poem The Hollow Men by T. S. Eliot.

Still, if you have the stomach for it, The Fall, while controversial, stands nearly alone in how it treats mental illness and violence. It isn't Psych, it isn't Midsomer Murders: but if you need a break from vapid, purposeless television, The Fall is exactly what you need to see.



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