Olivia Colman's Sky drama Landscapers is a must-see for true-crime fans
How do you make a serious true-crime drama when the story it is based on is completely bonkers?
The answer, if you are Landscapers' director Will Sharpe, is you don't – instead you deliver a quirky, blackly comic and almost theatrical take on the tale of an odd British couple who managed to get away with murder for more than a decade.
Olivia Colman and David Thewlis are the actors who brilliantly step into the shoes of Christopher and Susan Edwards, who in 2014 were convicted of the murders of her parents, Patricia and William Wycherley. The crime actually took place in 1998, when Susan's mother and father were shot at their home near Mansfield.
Neighbours who noticed the elderly pair were no longer around believed they had emigrated abroad, but in fact Christopher had buried their bodies in the garden (apparently the neighbours noticed Chris digging a big hole but didn't think it strange). He and Susan then kept up the pretence for years that they were still alive by forging legal documents and letters to family members.
It's believed that Susan and Christopher amassed around £250,000 from the Wycherleys' pensions and bank accounts, but when they finally turned themselves in, they barely had any money.
Where had it all gone? The Edwards certainly didn't live a lavish lifestyle or squander the money on holidays and cars – instead, the couple spent most of the money on movie memorabilia, including signed photographs of Gary Cooper and a set of Frank Sinatra stamps that weren't worth anything close to what they paid for them.
All the ups and downs of their story – including them fleeing to Lille in France when they thought they were about to be discovered, and their later arrest after they disembarked the Eurostar at St Pancras Station – are gleefully depicted by director Sharpe.
Opening with the couple's first night in custody, he immediately asserts that Landscapers is no ordinary true-crime drama.
As Dipo Ola (playing Susan's solicitor) walks across a city square to meet his client, the film production instructions – "rain" (cue rain falling on the assembled actors) and "action" – are shouted in the background, pulling back the cinematic curtain and showing the audience, nudge nudge, wink wink, that it is all a bit fake. Or, as Sky describes it, 'narratively playful'.
Indeed, if you like your true-crime dramas serious and linear, Landscapers may take a bit of getting used to.
The story starts in the middle – the events that lead up to the couple's return to England from France, and the discovery of the bodies in the garden – and features a collection of offbeat characters, from nosy neighbours to sarcastic, sweary police officers (best of all is Kate O'Flynn’s dogged cop, the only smart one on the team).
As the couple's history, their time in France and their arrest are detailed, the action occasionally switches to black and white as Susan imagines that husband Christopher is her version of Gary Cooper, and he imagines that he's the hero in his own make-believe movie too (a scene in which David Thewlis's face is superimposed on Cooper's body is a treat).
It's back to full colour again for the police scenes, while Susan's version of events – she claimed her father was killed by her mother, she then accidentally shot her mum, and Chris only learned of their deaths a week later over a plate of fish and chips (you've got to love all the minutiae here) – is depicted like a stage play, with the parents getting up from their dead poses to recreate the event, complete with green liquid instead of blood dribbling from their gunshot wounds.
Some moments feel as if they are from a Hitchcock film, and the mix of styles, storytelling devices and quirky moments (look out for the masked bystanders) are most reminiscent of Oliver Stone's movie Natural Born Killers rather than 'straight' crime dramas like Des or White House Farm.
Lesser actors could be overwhelmed by such tricks, but both Colman and Thewlis navigate the twists and turns of the direction and the story with skill.
We may never know the Edwards' true motivation, what exactly happened or even what their romantic relationship was like – acquaintances described them as 'quiet' and 'like brother and sister' – but writer Ed Sinclair (Olivia Colman's husband) gives them both voices that are sometimes tragic, sometimes sad and sometimes deluded, but always fascinating.
Colman is mesmerising as the 'fragile' Susan (as husband Christopher describes her), Thewlis is her equal as the protective husband and together they keep you gripped through four episodes as Britain's most unlikely killer duo.
And stay tuned for the credits at the end of each episode – as well as featuring footage of the real news reports, there are interesting little snippets of the sets being built and dismantled for this curious crime drama.
Landscapers will be available to watch on Sky Atlantic from December 7.
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