The TV Series
The box art for The Fall: Series 1 contains a quote calling it "relentlessly original," yet there's a lot of familiar elements at play with this gritty British drama. This absorbing five-hour saga follows a serial killer on the loose in Belfast, Ireland - a man who stalks and murders young, attractive women while maintaining a façade as a stable, suburban family man (one who works as a grief counselor, no less). The X-Files' Gillian Anderson delivers a subtle performance as the steely investigator who is called in to hunt down the killer.
Right from the unusual opening scenes of the first episode, The Fall establishes a frightening, grimy and compellingly realistic scenario. After two young professional women are found raped and murdered in their apartments, their bodies left in carefully posed tableaux, the Belfast police department summons London-based Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (Anderson) to offer her expertise and find out if the murders are connected. Her supervisor on the cases, police captain Jim Burns (John Lynch), believes that the most recent killing (of an architect) may have been related to the victim's estranged ex-fiancee. After a cursory examination of the facts, however, Gibson concludes that both murders were by the hands of the same person - and that the entire department needs to act quickly to prevent another tragedy from occurring. While all this is happening, we witness upstanding family man Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) going out on nightly jogs during which he surreptitiously observes a young woman named Sarah Kay (Laura Donnelly). Breaking into Kay's apartment while she's away, Spector rearranges things and leaves subtle notes that she's being shadowed. The understandably distressed Kay calls the police for protection, but they can only do so much. When the third apparent victim of this killing spree turns up, Detective Gibson amps up the department's investigation - despite finding resistance from both her superiors and the police-averse Irish people she's questioning. Meanwhile, Spector continues to shield his deviant ways from his two young children and his earthy nurse wife, Olivia (Sarah Beattie).
At first glance, The Fall comes across like an intense if slow and somewhat formulaic thriller. It unfolds in an unexpectedly fascinating ways, however - especially when it comes to Gillian Anderson's Stella Gibson and how she interacts with those around her. Gibson is at first seen as a no-nonsense, rather emotionless type whose British reserve alienates the rough-and-tumble police personnel she's assigned to deal with (Anderson's Princess Diana accent takes some adjusting to, but stick with her - she's that good). In the second episode, however, she impulsively propositions one of the field detectives to meet up with her in her hotel room, where they share a passionate hook-up. In time, it's revealed that she previously had a similar affair with a married superior. This sensuous side of Gibson even comes out during interactions with female characters like Danielle Ferrington (played by Niamh McGrady), a tough officer who reveals that she's gay during a moment of downtime. Having the main character display a sexually quirky side seems odd at first, but the maneuver serves as a way for Gibson to understand the killer's motivations and track his movements before they happen. While the Gibson/Spector dynamic is the most interesting aspect of The Fall, the series does a great job of establishing a realistic world with several scenes that don't directly relate to the main characters but nevertheless feel part of a gritty, satisfying whole.
In a refreshing change from the way American dramas unfold, The Fall starts out subtly, then builds itself up to an unbelievably tense pitch (especially in episodes four and five). If the concept seems kind of Prime Suspect-ish, there's a good reason - series creator Allan Cubitt wrote the second Prime Suspect installment back in 1992. This series delves into topics darker than the earlier show, however. While Gillian Anderson's Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson may never be as iconic as Helen Mirren's Jane Tennison, the X-Files star's firm presence here bodes well for The Fall to eventually be as compelling as the Mirren series.
Acorn Media's edition of The Fall: Series 1 comes in a standard-width slip covered DVD case, with five episodes spread over two discs.
Digitally shot with a deliberately dark, grainy look, the 16:9 anamorphic widescreen image used on The Fall winds up looking good on disc. The picture is well modulated with darks never getting too murky, and lights having a pleasant appearance that brings out the color in the photography. Despite having two to three hours of material on each disc, I didn't see any outstanding flaws with the mastering.
The Fall is furnished with a nice, simple Dolby Digital stereo mix which sounds pristine and atmospheric, with clear dialogue and sound effects. English SDH subtitles are also included (the Irish accents get thick at times, but there's no need for the added subs).
The only extra of note is a 12-minute making-of featurette, in which Anderson, Dornan and other cast and crew share stories on the series' production and getting into the right mindset to play their roles. As with other Acorn releases, a few trailers for their other products automatically play upon insertion of the first disc.
Stirring psychological drama The Fall epitomizes what the British do best, TV-wise. It's suspenseful, gritty, bracingly realistic and thoughtfully produced. This serial killer hunt is headed by Gillian Anderson's seen-it-all investigator, Stella Gibson, a woman shares a lot in common with Helen Mirren's Jane Tennison (Prime Suspect). Although the similarities might signal warning bells, the dark intricacies of this Belfast-set tale are strong enough to offset any vague feelings of deja vu. Highly Recommended.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist, film critic and jack-of-all-trades in Phoenix, Arizona. Since 2000, he has been blogging at Scrubbles.net. 4 Color Cowboy is his repository of Western-kitsch imagery, while other films he's experienced are logged at Letterboxd. He also welcomes friends on Twitter @4colorcowboy.