It isn’t always the quiet ones. In fact, it’s hardly ever the quiet ones. Generally, it’s exactly the ones you expect who do exactly what they seem very likely to do. But it’s the quiet ones who draw us in, who demand closer attention, deeper digging.
All of which makes the case of Susan and Christopher Edwards – a librarian and an accountant from Dagenham, convicted in 2014 of murdering her parents, burying their bodies in the back garden and concealing the deaths for the next 15 years – catnip to anyone, including another married couple, Olivia Colman and Ed Sinclair. Colman gives a career-best performance (in a career full of them – you keep thinking she must top out eventually, but not so far) as Susan in the four-part drama Landscapers (Sky Atlantic), exquisitely, tenderly and comically written by Sinclair. The project would have been almost impossible to sabotage, no matter who was cast as Chris, but we have David Thewlis, and it’s a matchless combination. Imagine two of the greatest actors of their generation being even better together than they are separately. That’s Landscapers.
It’s impossible to know from news reports, which deal in dry and police-filtered facts, how true the drama’s portrait of the Edwards is. But the vision offered by Sinclair, Colman and Thewlis is of a devoted couple, whose needs and abilities seamlessly slotted together to become one indivisible whole, and it’sheartbreaking and utterly convincing.
We first meet the couple living an apparently idyllic life in France. It gradually becomes clear that they had to leave England for a reason and, although Susan is still buying the Hollywood memorabilia with which she is obsessed, are nearly out of money. Chris’s French isn’t good enough to get work and, eventually, he calls his stepmother, Tabitha, to explain that they have “done something rather silly” and are in need of cash. “I can’t let Susan down. She’s very fragile.” He confesses to burying his in-laws in the garden, and Tabitha calls the police. The couple return to the UK, snuggling for comfort as the train moves through the night, to face the music – though so strong is their fantasy life (for Susan especially) that they seem to conceive of it as no more than a soundtrack to the third reel of their adventure.
Scenes shift in and out of reality, with sets sometimes deconstructed and new backdrops built around them, or colour draining away so we slip into a 1940s romance as the couple cling to each other while a very modern policing net closes round them. Will Sharpe’s direction is never tricksy or obtrusive, but does vividly convey the power of the couple’s inner lives and relinquished grasp of the truth.
The opening episode is split between scenes of Susan and Chris in France, delicately bleak and profoundly moving even as the secret they share becomes clearer and clearer, and scenes set among the police in England who are uncovering the extent of the Edwards’ deceptions. At first, the contrast jars, with some of the officers’ shtick feeling a little crude against the filigree work being done by Colman and Thewlis. But things start to smooth out in the second half – perhaps from the moment the lead officer Emma (a superb Kate O’Flynn) muses on what being “fragile” really means. “It means you’re in charge … You’re the pain in the arse, basically.”
Landscapers is a meditation on how many versions of reality there can be within one chain of events, on the impossibility of objectivity. The police go by bullets and trajectories and missing money to arrive at one truth. Susan goes by history, emotion, imagination and self-preservation to arrive at hers. Chris has her story and whatever else his blind devotion to Susan allows him to see. Where viewers land is up to them.
Landscapers doesn’t tie anything down. Even beyond the possibilities evoked, we sense further hinterlands, unknowns and unknowabilities. It is a rich, generous, clever, multi-textured thing, immaculately played by all the main actors, but awards for Colman, Thewlis and the script must surely be given. Consider it the first of your Christmas treats.
• This article was amended on 8 December 2021. An earlier version referred to Landscapers as an HBO drama, when it is a Sky-HBO co-production, broadcast in the UK by Sky Atlantic; also, the series has four episodes, not three.