Skydive Murder Plot, Channel 4, review: retelling of parachute ordeal falls frustratingly short

Experienced skydiver Victoria Cilliers almost died when her parachute failed in 2015
Experienced skydiver Victoria Cilliers almost died when her parachute failed in 2015 - Channel 4

How on earth could anyone survive falling 4,000 feet from an aeroplane, the victim of a nightmarish parachute malfunction? It’s a fascinating, not to say terrifying, question so The Fall: Skydive Murder Plot (Channel 4) opened with a humdinger of a mystery.

Only, as it rather oddly turned out, this three-part part-dramatised documentary was not overly interested in how in 2015 experienced skydiver Victoria Cilliers somehow escaped death when she ploughed at horrifying velocity into a ploughed field. I’m not much of an ambulance chaser when it comes to grisly medical detail, but a bit of surgical inquiry would not have gone amiss.

Instead we were rapidly plunged into the toxic backstory of a marriage only one ripped ripcord away from murder. To an outsider Victoria’s relationship with soldier husband Emile, with whom she had two children, was one of domestic bliss. But the reality, we were told, was rather different.

Making the most of its oft repeated on screen sell-line – “Every word is real. Even the lies” – the programme set about painting Emile as the villain of the piece, a manipulative charmer whose rampant ego and uncontrollable sex drive saw him lead a double life, keeping Victoria under his thumb while he plotted her downfall.

You couldn’t deny that he was twisted – how else to describe someone who messages an escort for sex while sitting by his unconscious wife in intensive care – but the evidence that he’d tampered with Victoria’s parachute so it would fail seemed little more than circumstantial.

MyAnna Buring plays Victoria Cilliers in the dramatised sections
MyAnna Buring plays Victoria Cilliers in the dramatised sections - Channel 4

This was where The Fall’s story arc became as tangled as a mangled parachute. Artfully mixing the recollections of the true-life detectives on the case with interrogation scenes played by actors, the thrust here was to show the difficulties faced by police to mount a winnable case without forensics, DNA or witnesses to convince a jury.

Having quickly decided that Emile Cilliers was the guilty party – mainly because there weren’t any other suspects – DI Paul Franklin and DC Maddy Hennah of Wiltshire Police certainly created a convincing portrait of Emile Cilliers as a poisonous master of manipulation and we were told that Franklin presented a masterly definition of his coercive control of Victoria in court. Enough to convict Cilliers at the second time of asking. But it was an odd omission that we didn’t hear Franklin’s court speech ourselves.

The holes in the story proved frustrating because The Fall’s skilful blending of reality and drama, mixing recollections from the real Victoria with fascinating scenes played by MyAnna Buring and Neil Bishop (chilling) as the Cilliers kept the tension turned up to the max. Watching actors being briefed by a director then walking straight on set to play a scene could have come off as unnecessarily tricksy, but it worked brilliantly.

Yet, as fascinating as the bones of the story, broken or otherwise, undoubtedly were, I was left with the feeling that I’d got to the end of a jigsaw only to discover vital pieces missing.