The week in TV: Landscapers; The Great; You Don’t Know Me; How to Make It on OnlyFans
Olivia Colman and David Thewlis are superb as a pair of unlikely murderers on the run; The Great laughs in the face of history; and there’s only one real hero in You Don’t Know Me
Landscapers (Sky Atlantic)
The Great (Starzplay)
You Don’t Know Me (BBC One) | iPlayer
How to Make It on OnlyFans (Channel 4) | All 4
Landscapers, Sky Atlantic’s new four-part true crime drama, shouldn’t work. It stars Olivia Colman and David Thewlis as Susan and Christopher Edwards, the “Mansfield murderers”, who in 1998 shot her parents and buried them in the garden (also amassing £245,000), and were finally sentenced to life imprisonment in 2014, with a minimum of 25 years each. Written by Ed Sinclair, Colman’s husband, and directed by Will Sharpe (Giri/Haji; Flowers), Landscapers is pretentious, wayward, hyper-conceptual – eschewing realism, shredding timelines – breaks all the rules of true crime, including the good ones. It’s also extraordinary, disquieting, beautiful; television as art.
From the off (all episodes are available to stream), we’re plunged into Susan’s reality-distorting Hollywood obsession: westerns, romances, the squandering of huge sums on memorabilia, faked letters from Gérard Depardieu. The couple are impoverished in France, having been on the run for 15 years – needlessly, as nobody noticed the victims were missing – and librarian Susan lives in idealised “scenes”, casting accountant Christopher as her screen hero. This self-protective cocoon – Susan was abused by her father – is compounded by Christopher harbouring the kind of saviour complex that’s so often a front for control; even early on, their Great Love looks more of a tarted-up co-dependency doomed to shatter under pressure. This comes when Christopher gives them up and they return to England to face the police, brilliantly played by Kate O’Flynn, Samuel Anderson and Daniel Rigby, while Dipo Ola is wonderful as Susan’s kindly solicitor.
Colman and Thewlis live and breathe every strange, tortured moment
Christopher’s betrayal is the moment when Susan’s mask of meekness slips to reveal childish rage, a nastiness that reminds you that, however confused the Edwards’s story of the murders becomes, murders they still were. Landscapers itself evolves into a writhing screen-Hydra of themes, moods and techniques: from black-and-white court scenes, snowy police interviews and a full-blown western sequence, to such a comprehensive smashing of the fourth wall that players leave one set to join another. Just as you think the Edwards are being too endearingly portrayed as bunglers and innocents – “My husband and I got ourselves into a bit of a pickle” – real-life news reports cut through the whimsy like a sharp syrup.
Dennis Potter’s influence is here, but also Charlie Kaufman’s 2020 Netflix film I’m Thinking of Ending Things (which also starred Thewlis). The result is mesmeric and audacious, though without the anchorage of the lead performances it could still have turned into so much experimental shrapnel. Colman won an Oscar for The Favourite, but she’s even better here. She and Thewlis provide the (irregular) heartbeat of Landscapers – together, they live and breathe every strange, tortured moment of it.
Tony McNamara co-wrote The Favourite, and his Starzplay dramedy The Great, about the rise of Russia’s Catherine the Great (played with wicked elan by Elle Fanning), is, well, great. Now returning for a 10-part second series, with episodes released singly until issued as a box set on Boxing Day, to say that The Great bears the weight of history lightly is an understatement. From what I can make out, it plonks on lavish costumes, sits in sumptuous palaces and feels good to go, wilfully spraying around anachronisms and outright filth like it’s Sex Education with powdered hair and corsets. You half expect Catherine’s husband, Nicholas Hoult’s Peter III, to arrive atop a skateboard, shouting his signature “Huzzah!”.
As we rejoin them, Peter remains hampered by sycophants who indulge his every hot-headed move and Catherine is intent on forcing Peter to abdicate, while also bewailing her pregnancy, “a coup on your body”. While the whole cast is great, Fanning and Hoult’s chemistry is the jewel in the Greats’ imperial crown, though in Catherine’s scathing view it doesn’t exist: “I look at you and go dry like sand.” There’s more than a whiff of Blackadder here, but you won’t catch me complaining about that.
You Don’t Know Me is a four-part thriller, adapted by Tom Edge (Vigil) from the book by barrister Imran Mahmood. It stars Samuel Adewunmi as Hero, a car salesman who’s dragged into the criminal underbelly in his quest to find mysterious new girlfriend (Sophie Wilde), resulting in him facing charges for the murder of local drug dealer Jamil (Roger Jean Nsengiyumva).
The drama has barely begun before Hero sacks his barrister and is in court defending himself, explaining how the damning evidence (forensics, CCTV et al) isn’t proof of his guilt. From there it’s a veritable kaleidoscope of flashbacks, with occasional courtroom links. At times it all gets a bit bargain-bin Top Boy, and Hero’s relentless courtroom explanations and denials recall Shaggy’s It Wasn’t Me. Then there’s Jamil’s inexplicable survival after being shot at point-blank range: somehow he rises from the dead like a puffa-jacketed Christ.
Still, You Don’t Know Me is pacy and enjoyable, with twist piled upon twist and all-round great performances, including Bukky Bakray (Rocks) as Hero’s sensitive sister. Adewunmi was wasted in the recent disappointing Angela Black, and here he’s able to showcase his skills and charisma. As Hero, he’s engulfed in emotions – love, fear, despair – proving he’s a leading man all the way.
Related: ‘I didn’t think this would air on the BBC’: the stars of shocking legal drama You Don’t Know Me
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During the making of the documentary, OnlyFans announced a ban on sexual content and then just as abruptly withdraw it. Obviously the libertine sex positive argument was strong here, while counter-arguments (including widespread concerns about underage content providers) were in short supply. Still, this was an illuminating, humanising peek at OnlyFans contributors: Baddie, for one, suffered from everything from low self-esteem to autoimmune hepatitis. While not agreeing with all the views aired, I didn’t stop liking the people.
What else I’m watching…
Other, Like Me
A documentary about COUM Transmissions, the 1970s art-music collective (Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV) that became mired in satanic abuse allegations. They don’t make “outsiders” like this any more. Interviewees include the late Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti, who in later years accused P-Orridge of abuse.
Second series of the period crime drama set in the opulent environs of Vienna during the 1900s. When a Hungarian countess is found drowned in her hotel bath, the case must be solved by detective Jürgen Maurer and psychiatrist Matthew Beard.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
The 11th series of Curb is in fine, turbo-caustic form, with guest stars including Woody Harrelson and Seth Rogen. In the latest episode, our antihero is too idle to queue to vote and Tracey Ullman co-stars as a councillor so abhorrent she’s Larry’s match.