This BBC 5 part mini-series is a taut crime story, lovingly detailed, and anchored by a powerful, understated Gillian Anderson performance. A serial killer is loose on the streets of modern day Belfast and he is targeting professional women of a particular physical type, who he tracks, monitors and then strangles in an elaborate, almost artistic ritual. Stella Gibson (Anderson) is brought in from London to perform a review. When the killer strikes again, she is assigned the case.
This is not a whodunit, as we are introduced to the killer in the first few moments. Instead, The Fall is a meticulous police procedural with a distinct take on Belfast. Be it the ways of a tough neighborhood, the politics of the investigation or specifics of a crime scene, the feel is assured and authentic. The characters are also very strong, in particular, the killer (Jamie Dornan). While he is in no way sympathetic, he is unique in that we see him not only planning and executing his gruesome acts, but as a seemingly loving father and husband, and a conscientious civil servant (of all things, he is a grief counselor).
The Fall was created by Alan Cubitt, who has credentials as a writer for the Helen Mirren series, Prime Suspect, and at first blush, Anderson’s Gibson and Mirren’s Jane Tennyson have some similarities. They are both Detective Chief Inspectors in a male-dominated profession and they both do not have a significant male others. There is where the similarity ends, as Gibson is in a new environment (the last Prime Suspect was almost a decade ago), one that is more friendly to women, but also one where male expectations and bias evince themselves in a subtler fashion. Anderson’s Gibson is also clearly more reserved and in-control than Mirren’s Tennyson, who was rock-solid on-the-job, but more vulnerable in her private life. Gibson is not vulnerable at all, but she is not brittle or overtly righteous. In many ways, she is a “first” for a female police lead, as male as any officer, certainly stronger and smarter than most, and emotionally detached without lapsing into copycat or bitch. When a married detective with whom she has casually slept with is investigated, and she is questioned as to the liaison in a manner different than a man would endure, she suffers the double-standard with a certain patience before matter-of-factly telling the investigator that the detective’s wife was her lover’s problem, not hers. She also has somewhat of a sexual kink. Not Clint Eastwood in Tightrope kinky, but a kink nonetheless, a true rarity for a female lead.
It’s a great character and Anderson has left a lot to develop. BBC Two has renewed the series for a second season and I hope Gibson becomes the next Jane Tennyson, who carried us through 7 Prime Suspects.
Available on Netflix streaming.