The Fall BBC Two Review: Gillian Anderson shines in this creepy and stylistic Northern Ireland based serial killer drama

by Matt D


Anybody who’s accustomed to TV murder mystery dramas knows that we never really meet the killer until the last episode. For example, part of the success of the excellent Broadchurch was that everybody could have go at guessing who the killer was. But at the same time, some crime dramas suffer from the fact that the killer’s motivation is never explored in great detail. That’s definitely not the case with The Fall, in which the killer is literally unmasked within the first five minutes of the drama. The rest of the series then looks like it will play out as a cat and mouse drama with a brilliant DCI brought in to review the case of one of the murderer’s previous victims.

The killer in question is Paul Spector who, when we first meet him, is stalking around the house belonging to pretty young solicitor Sarah Kay. Spector moves around Sarah’s flat, pressing her underwear against his face and looking at pictures of her. After returning home from a night out, Sarah finds her underwear laid on her bed and immediately calls the police. However Paul has covered his tracks well so when the somewhat incompetent police officers arrive at her house they find no evidence of a break in. Instead they put her behaviour down to alcohol and attribute the theft of the underwear to a vindictive ex-boyfriend of Sarah’s who still has a spare key. Meanwhile we get the first shock of the drama when Paul returns home, to be greeted by his son! This is where we learn that Paul is actually a loving family man with two young children and a pretty neo-natal nurse wife. He spends his days working as a grief counsellor but, as the audience are shown, he doesn’t take his job seriously. Indeed when a young couple, who have lost their son to bacterial meningitis, visit him he spends all his time sketching the mother’s cleavage on his pad. He also uses days out with his family to secretly stalk his victims. This is first seen when he and his daughter, who suffers from night terrors, sit on a bench at the park next to Sarah and her sister who are discussing the break-in at her house. Later he and his wife go for a night out at a bar, where Paul bumps into Sarah again and this time is able to steal her driving license. As Paul builds up to his final attack on Sarah, there is one woman who could possibly stop him.


That woman is Scotland Yard based DSI Stella Gibson who is brought over to Belfast to review the murder of Alice Monroe, a young architect who was killed several months earlier. Stella’s is drafted in by her good friend Jim Burns, who realises that she may be the woman who can finally solve the case. From the first time we meet Stella, it’s obvious that she’s not afraid to step on anybody’s toes to get to the truth. She’s also quickly assesses that this wasn’t the killer’s first murder as he seemed to have things entirely under control. Garrett Brink, the officer who is assisting Stella with her review, notes the similarity of Alice Monroe’s death with another that he previously investigated. Brink’s investigation was of the murder of Fiona Gallagher, another young professional woman, who was thought to have been killed by one of her ex-boyfriends. Stella takes her theory to Burns, telling him that she believes Fiona was the murderer’s first victim and by the time he got round to Alice he knew what he was doing. However, Jim believes there isn’t enough evidence to connect the two victims and tells Stella outright that he doesn’t want the two murders linked. Despite this warning, Stella continues undeterred feeling that Jim is suffering from what she describes as ‘linkage blindness’. Later she tells the other officers to find evidence into any cases that may have seen young women’s house broken into and underwear stolen. This gets the female PC who investigated Sarah’s case thinking, so she convinces her partner to pay another visit to the solicitor’s house. However it remains to be seen if they are too late to stop Paul from carrying out yet another murder.

The first thing to say about The Fall is that it feels incredibly stylish and fresh. Director Jakob Verbruggen has put a lot of effort into giving all of Paul’s scenes a slightly creepy, almost horror film-like vibe. There are also some impressive shots, one of which is when the camera tracks above the rooms in the Spector’s house to show Paul’s actions after his daughter has one of her attacks. In addition, there’s a great shot when Stella arrives in Belfast for the first time as she surveys all of the graffiti that had been created during the riots. Indeed, Belfast is almost a character in its own right as we see Burns warn Stella about policing being political as well as a picture in the police station of ‘fallen colleagues’. The main issue I had with The Fall is that I didn’t particularly connect with either of the main protagonists. I suppose that’s a good thing to an extent, as I’d be rather worried if I felt I had anything in common with a creepy serial killer. It’s odd then that Paul is the character who is on scree the most as, for the most part, we know him to be a cold and vindictive man. While I’m interested to see what his motives actually are, I don’t really have any emotions towards him when he’s on screen. I feel writer Alan Cubitt should’ve given us a bit more about Stella’s background as she seems to be an interesting sort. Unlike other female detectives, Stella doesn’t seem to have any issues with drinking or any other addictions. Instead she seems to relax by indulging in vigorous swimming sessions and inviting male colleagues back to her hotel room for a bit of rumpy pumpy. There’s also a great scene when Stella tears a journalist to shreds after he attempts to get a story from her. I get the feeling that if we’d have seen more of this side of Stella then I would’ve enjoyed The Fall a lot more.

Jamie Dornan and Gillian Anderson

Obviously part of the reason that Stella is such an intriguing character is down to the performance from Gillian Anderson. The former X-Files actress has been touted as the star of the piece, so it’s odd that she doesn’t appear as much as you think she would do. However, it’s great to see her channelling her inner Jane Tennison as the no-nonsense Stella Gibbons who makes an impression the moment she sets foot in Belfast. Anderson successfully makes Stella a definitive authority figure who has no inner-demons to speak off and sees most of her male colleagues as sex objects. Despite not being a massive fan of the character of Paul, I still admire Jamie Doran’s mullti-layered performance as the man who must balance his family life with the fact that he’s a stone-cold psychopath. He easily draws you in and makes you fear for any woman who comes into contact with him, especially the Spector’s teenage babysitter who starts to flirt with Paul. But Doran can’t help the fact that Paul’s not a likeable figure and I did struggle to care about his actions after a while. There were really no memorable supporting performances to speak of although John Lynch filled the gruff authority figure role well and I had fun spotting all of the former Hollyoaks actors who popped up throughout the piece.

There’s no denying that The Fall is well-designed and has an interesting concept. I felt that Verbruggen’s direction was incredibly stylish while Cubitt’s script felt original. The performances from Anderson and Doran were great while the setting of Belfast perfectly suited the story. The problem I had was that I couldn’t really connect with or root for any of the characters and therefore I felt a little removed from the action. At the same time, I can see that The Fall has potential and I’m going to keep watching to see if it grips me more as the weeks go on. But for now, I will say that this is definitely an interesting drama but not one that I’m full engaged with.

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