Landscapers: Olivia Colman murder-drama is the ghastliest show this year

TV review: A queasy farrago that’s buried its moral compass in the garden

David Thewlis and Olivia Colman play an adorable couple who are also convicted murderers

David Thewlis and Olivia Colman play an adorable couple who are also convicted murderers

 

In Landscapers (Sky Atlantic, Tuesday, 9pm) Olivia Colman and David Thewlis play an adorably eccentric couple whose idiosyncrasies are eclipsed only by their tender devotion for one another. They’re also convicted murderers but we are invited to wave away that minor inconvenience and focus on the upside. Nobody is perfect, are they?

Colman’s great gift is to imbue even problematic characters with charm. In The Crown she was bubbly as anything as Queen Elizabeth even while the rest of the Windsors were shown merrily gas-lighting Diana. And she brings the same agreeable obliviousness to her portrayal of Susan Edwards who, along with husband Christopher, is serving a life sentence for the 1998 murder of her elderly mother and father (both protest their innocence).

That Landscapers is to be enjoyed as a grand giggle, underscored by its depiction of the police in Nottingham as bumbling comic relief

In the UK, Landscapers has been heralded as a bright new dawn for true crime TV. In truth, it’s a queasy farrago that has lost its moral compass. And which nudges the viewer towards letting the Edwards off the hook for the killing of William and Patricia Wycherley, both in their 80s when they were shot and then buried in the back garden of their home in suburban Mansfield, near Nottingham (Susan and Christopher were after their pensions).

As re-imagined by writer Ed Sinclair (Colman’s husband) this is a grand love affair with some pesky patricide and matricide in the background. It takes up the story 15 years after the murders, with the Edwards quietly on the run in Lille, the Wycherleys’ bodies undiscovered back in the UK (Susan and Edward having told friends that William and Patricia have moved to Ireland).

The Edwards are in a sorry state. With gas bills due, Susan fritters away their savings on vintage movie posters (she is obsessed with Gary Cooper). And poor David can’t get a job, owing to the language barrier. What have they done to deserve this?

A more honest show would find a way of portraying the Edwards as monsters

Well, there’s a double-murder for starters. But the fluffy tone of Landscapers makes it clear that we should not dwell on the bloodshed. Instead, Sinclair’s script invites us to lose ourselves in the fantasy wonderland that Susan and Christopher have wrought for themselves, and which is steeped in their zeal for old movies. When Christopher meets Susan for coffee, for instance, she is framed like the love interest in a silent picture.

That Landscapers is to be enjoyed as a grand giggle, underscored by its depiction of the police in Nottingham as bumbling comic relief. Tipped off to the presence of the bodies by David’s stepmother, they spend as much time swearing and chugging tea as getting to the bottom of the crime at the end of the garden.

A more honest show would find a way of portraying the Edwards as monsters. However, Landscapers, which feels as if it was conjured in a lightning storm of cheek-kissing thespianism, wants us to see them as escapees from The Fast Show or League of Gentleman. Lovable weirdos whose hearts are in the right place; it’s one of the ghastliest things you’ll watch all year.

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