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The Fall: Cool and cruel (2016)

The Fall: Cool and cruel
Benji Wilson on the return of The Fall, the sexy but controversial serial-killer show

Benji Wilson
September 18 2016,
The Sunday Times

At the end of the second series of The Fall, the BBC’s controversial hit crime drama, Jamie Dornan’s serial killer, Paul Spector, was shot. To the casual observer, he looked really quite dead. Indeed, in the context of the story, it would have made sense if he were dead: over two series, The Fall has charted a protracted cat-and-mouse between Spector and DSI Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson). Spector finished series two seemingly bleeding out in Gibson’s arms. Dead or otherwise, she had got her man.

So the first question when a third series was announced last year was whether or not Spector would be returning. On set in Belfast, that question is quickly answered, as Dornan shuffles in and says: “I’m here. I guess that’s the giveaway.”

Just as he’s about to start telling us what happens — “a lot of hospital action” is mentioned, as well as the continued “psychological manipulation” of Gibson by Spector — Allan Cubitt, The Fall’s creator, writer and director, pops his head round the door. He looks concerned that Dornan is talking about the show at all.
“I don’t want to tell the audience anything about whether Spector lives or dies past the first five minutes,” Cubitt says. “I would rather they tuned in going, ‘Well, we don’t know if he’s going to survive episode one, and the whole thing’s then going to be about something else’ — it could just be we’re passing the baton to another case.”

It could. But it won’t be. They are several weeks into shooting, so it’s safe to assume the third series of The Fall will include Dornan throughout. You couldn’t really just drop him, anyway. Since the show began in 2013, he has gone from the pretty guy who used to be a Calvin Klein model to a movie star, known around the world for playing Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey.

He doesn’t like to talk about Fifty Shades much, but doesn’t renounce it, either: “There’s probably a lot more people who watch The Fall now because of Fifty Shades. And if Fifty Shades has opened more eyes to The Fall, then that’s only a good thing.”

Yet it was The Fall, and Dornan’s calm, disarming portrayal of a vicious murderer who was also a gentle father, that made casting directors take him seriously. He’s been playing Spector for four years now, on and off.

“The Fall has been my acting school, and Allan has been the headmaster. In fact, we call him ‘headmaster’. I feel after that amount of time that I have a pretty good grip on Spector’s behaviour on the page and off the page. I do think I’ve changed a little bit when I’m playing him. Something happens to my psyche when I grow the beard and get a haircut. It’s disturbing. And so is the character — there is an element of it that could be the guy next door, which I think is more frightening. You don’t have to look like some supercreep to murder people.”

“I deliberately tried to challenge Jamie as an actor in season three,” says Cubitt, the headmaster intent on stretching his star pupil. “I’ve given him things to do that are different from the things he’s had to do as Spector before, and he’s risen to the challenge.”

The challenge facing Anderson is, if anything, more complex. She has to portray a mind pulled in two contrary directions. “I think Gibson is absolutely disgusted by the degree of violence against women in the world, period, and the number of times the perpetrators end up getting off. But I think she is also obsessed and fascinated by Spector’s mind. She really wants to understand what makes a person do this — what, psychologically, leads to this behaviour.”

It’s therefore particularly irritating to Anderson that The Fall continues to be criticised for being misogynistic. Last month, Lucinda Coxon, the writer of The Danish Girl, singled it out for using “voyeuristic” thrills and casual misogyny in its depiction of female murder scenes.

“People can think what they like, I know what this is,” Anderson says. “It’s so wrong-headed. Were people to maybe sit back and look at Allan’s intention, which is the opposite of what they are claiming, they would see something very different. I think Allan is so emotional and invested in the fact of how women are treated in the world, and I really feel like this is his way of getting to say a lot through this script.”

The Fall, Anderson points out, has shown a cross section of women from the young to the elderly, whose psychology and treatment have been thoroughly explored.

“You get to see the devastation that can be wreaked by various levels of misogyny that exist in the world. By pointing at it, Allan is inviting debate. I don’t think there is anything he does that is gratuitous. There seem to be a lot of people who do get it. Those who don’t, and don’t like it, don’t have to watch.”

For those who do want to watch (and last year there were 2.5m of them), Anderson has some news. While it’s hard to see how Spector can go anywhere other than prison at the end of this series, Stella Gibson could well live on.

“This year, how it ends is very much how I wanted it to end. But as to where it could go? This is something where we could potentially take a break, then come back in five or 10 years. It would be quite interesting to see where Gibson is in her life and her work.

“She is my favourite character I’ve played on television, my favourite of them all, alongside Blanche [Dubois, in A Streetcar Named Desire]. I just love how she carries herself and how ballsy she is — what she stands up for and what she believes in. She is fascinating to me.”

The Fall, BBC2, from Sept 29

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