Landscapers, Sky Atlantic’s new true crime series, stars Olivia Colman and David Thewlis as Susan and Christopher Edwards – the generally ordinary-seeming couple behind the 1998 Mansfield ‘garden bodies’ murders.
Warning: this article contains spoilers for the first episode of Sky’s Landscapers.
The genre of true crime is one that continues to grow – with dramas being commissioned, podcasts to listen to and books to devour, it seems as though the insatiable appetite we have for gritty crime-based content is as large as ever.
That’s what makes Landscapers, Sky Atlantic’s latest release, such an intriguing watch. You see, it chronicles a perplexing true crime case but it also hones in on the couple at the centre of it – in an oddly heartfelt way.
A love story and a murder collide in an unexpected, endearing way which naturally means that we can’t tear our eyes away from this new drama.
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Landscapers’ first episode, which airs tonight, begins in as much of a confusing jolt as the case itself – we flicker between black and white scenes to full colour scenes, not quite knowing where we are.
Olivia Colman plays Susan Edwards, a well-mannered woman who we’re first introduced to on a rushed telephone call to a potential solicitor. Although it should be a call full of stress and tension, Susan is incredibly polite, courteous and relatively calm. “Sorry to keep you,” she says to the police officer who guides her away after the call is done.
Straight away, you’re made aware that this is not as cut-and-dried case. While we know the drama deals with a famous murder, Landscapers acts as the complete puzzle – showing us all the pieces that went into the major crime and exploring the important context of Susan and her husband Christopher, played by Harry Potter’s David Thewlis.
We follow their life in France – one where Christopher is struggling to get past the job interview stage on account of his poor French, compared to Susan who seems to amicably make conversations with locals, bound happily about and doesn’t seem to realise her husband’s woes.
With their dwindling finances, we see Christopher make (what turns out to be a fateful) call to his stepmother Tabitha asking for money.
It’s a decision that Susan does not take lightly: “No one knows where we are or why and you’d possibly have to tell, wouldn’t you? You’d have to explain a little about why we’re here and she could tell the police, couldn’t she? Not that we’ve done anything wrong.”
Reaching out to family, even in desperate need for money, is out of the question. As Susan sees it: “We’re doing fine. We’re just going through a bit of a sticky patch, that’s all.”
Much of the intrigue of this drama is also framed around how it’s shot and filmed. Many times, the fourth wall is broken between the actor and the viewer sitting at home, with monologues being given directly to the camera. It’s unsettling, and pulls the viewer further into the confusing web of information we’re presented with.
Many scenes are overlapped with others of an entirely different kind, making the generally mundane appear quite chaotic. For instance, Susan’s night-time ritual of watching westerns tucked up in bed is juxtaposed by the tension of the Mansfield garden excavation, which unveils the remains of her deceased parents.
Throughout its first episode, we’re presented with Susan as a ‘fragile’ character; she’s someone who is regularly shielded from the world and its negativities by her husband. Within that is an oddly touching sentiment – that even in the most gruesome and tragic of cases, one man’s love for his wife is so limitless that he builds a new life in a foreign country, hoping to remove her from the severity of what they’ve done.
One of the most heartfelt moments of the episode (and there are a notable few) comes when Susan turns to her husband before they make the decision to return to the UK.
“I’ve ruined your life,” she says. Genuinely heartbroken, the image of their close embrace is zoomed out of focus and the scene itself highlights the clear way they’ve isolated themselves not just from the world, but also from reality.
As they travel back to the UK, the pair still don’t grasp the severity of their crime and it’s something that’s honestly unnerving to watch. How do they not realise they are now wanted for murder? Do they not remember? Did they not do it? Questions continue to circle even as Susan proclaims that “it’s about time they knew”, in reference to speaking to the police.
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The couple willingly go back to the UK, as they don’t think they’ve done anything wrong, but scenes of a lengthy car tail – which plans to intercept them at the train station – show they’ve sorely misjudged the situation.
On the train ride, Christopher gets emotional. “It’s alright, I’m stronger than I look,” he reassures Susan.
He tells her: “No one is saying goodbye, my love. There are no goodbyes between us, I’ll never leave you, you know that. Never.”
If you’re looking for gore, grit and action, this series does not tick those boxes. Instead, it offers a fresh perspective on a true crime drama genre that already has all of those themes in great supply.
After watching, you’re left with the sense that, at its core, this true crime drama is actually a love story. It’s a dynamic we’re not entirely used to seeing within the television genre but in the case of Landscapers, it works – that’s what makes it such a captivating watch.
Sky’s Landscapers premieres on Sky Atlantic and NOW tonight.
Images: Sky Atlantic
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