Sometimes a drama comes along that blows you away within the first opening 5 minutes, and River is certainly one of those.
If like me the end of Doctor Foster left you craving more quality drama then luckily you haven't got long to wait as BBC One continues to deliver with River, starring Stellan Skarsgård (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), which starts on Tuesday.
After a lacklustre start to the year when it comes to drama, it seems BBC One are taking the autumn schedule seriously, with an impressive line-up that not only includes River and Doctor Foster, but also the return of Luther and Sherlock.
With Stellan Skarsgård and Nicola Walker playing the two main roles, and Abi Morgan (The Hour, Sex Traffic) taking care of the script, I expected something brilliant, what I got was something superb.
Back in August, I attended a press launch in London for River, and watching it on the big screen River really did take my breath away visually. It looked amazing. A lot is said these days about how cinematic television has got, and River is an excellent example of what that really means.
The London landscape looks gorgeous in the first episode, so it comes as no surprise that at the launch, writer Abi Morgan revealed that her real motivation for writing River was living in London. A city she loves and has a “huge pulse to it”.
Abi's next motivation was the character, John River and explained how the moment Stellan Skarsgård came on board, the character really came alive, describing it as “a bespoke piece for him”.
River is a brilliant police officer whose genius and fault-line is the fragility of his mind. Although River is a cop show, Abi Morgan was keen to explain that she really sees it as an “interrogation of grief” and “madness in its purest sense. Be that madness that comes out of loss, or teenage depression, or drug abuse, or madness that comes out of arriving in a new city from another country and being alone”.
Speaking at the launch, Stellan Skarsgård revealed that he has turned down so many cop shows because “there are too many of them and I can't say procedural lines” but there was something very different about River.
Part of its appeal to Stellan, was that as an actor he feels that actresses get much better parts to play “In every film there’s one great role, and it’s always a woman, “an open wound that bleeds all over the screen, and then there’s some stupid man around her.”
He went on to explain how “We’re supposed to be manly, which means we hide everything. We don’t show any feelings. And here (in River) I’ve got a part that allowed me to be an actor and actress at the same time!”
John River is a Detective who lives among the dead and dying victims and killers from the murder cases he’s trying to solve. He is struggling to come to terms with the recent loss of a close colleague, and in the first episode can be seen chasing a potential suspect across London, with tragic consequences.
In his fragile mental state, he comes under increasing pressure both from the press and within the police force as calls for his dismissal grow. Meanwhile the mother of a murdered teenager is growing increasingly desperate, the boyfriend has confessed but no body has been found, and she blames River for failing to make good on his promise to find her daughter.
Stellan Skarsgård may be the big name attached to River, however Abi Morgan has put together a stunning ensemble cast, including Adeel Akhtar, Lesley Manville, Eddie Marsan and of course, Nicola Walker.
Adele Akhtar(Utopia), who plays Ira King, a young Detective Constable who’s assigned to working with River on Erin’s case; an attempt at replacing Stevie. He respects and admires River as a detective, but has to work incredibly hard to begin to gain River’s trust. Despite being adaptable and understanding, he’s a sharp investigator and not un-ambitious. He’s a proud husband and father to a newborn son.
As River gets deeper into the investigation into Stevie’s death, Ira’s insight and commitment becomes invaluable, but his determination to finally earn River’s respect will also take Ira to risky places.
Lesley Manville (An Adventure In Space And Time) plays Chrissie Read, a brilliant leader and investigator, stretched very thin.
As a mother of four unruly teens, and a DCI managing a large team within Greater London police, she knows how to handle difficult people and get the best out of them. But trying to be everything to everybody is taking its toll on her nerves and her marriage.
Eddie Marsan (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell) plays Thomas Neill Cream, a real life killer from the nineteenth century, he represents the bleakest aspects of the human condition, both in the minds of the killers that River investigates and in River himself.
He’s a constant reminder that the veneer of civilization is thin, and that we all have the potential for great darkness within us. He’s also a manifestation of the pull towards death, suicide and oblivion.
Only last week I was writing that 2015 is shaping up to be Nicola Walker’s year after a great performance in Unforgotten, and her performance in River absolutely backs up my prediction.
Nicola plays Jackie ‘Stevie’ Stevenson, River’s close colleague who tragically lost her life, something he’s finding hard to come to terms with. She wasn’t only his colleague, but also River’s closest confidante and only real friend. She was the one person who best understood River’s unique perspective and helped him navigate the complexities of a world he finds so difficult.
As the investigation into Stevie's murder begins to reveal her deepest secrets, River has to question everything he thought he knew about his one true friend. Their relationship might have survived her death but can it survive the truth of who she really was in life?
What I really love about Nicola Walker is that it never feels as though she’s acting. No matter what character she plays she plays it so natural, that you completely buy into her character. She is a real joy to watch and having her on our screens twice a week at the moment is a real treat.
There's a lot of talk at the moment about the future of the BBC, and without getting into the politics of it all, you only have to look at the very high standard of drama on the BBC at the moment, to realise that a television landscape without the BBC would be much less exciting and with far less drama.
At 40p a day, is the license fee really something we should be moaning about? After all, a Netflix subscription works out at 23p a day and Amazon at 22p a day, and we’re all happy to pay for that. Not realising of course that the number of original programmes on both those services are far less than the BBC’s yearly output.
Politics aside, River is an absolutely stunning piece of drama that Abi Morgan and everyone involved should be incredibly proud of.