At the beginning of Landscapers, a caption explains that the married couple of Susan and Christopher Edwards were sentenced to 25 years in prison for murder. “To this day, they maintain their innocence,” reads a second superimposed message. From here, the viewer is introduced to two characters with a gray and nondescript appearance, fragile one might even say apparently incapable of killing a fly. But two people are much more than a fly. We meet the Edwards in Paris, where they are living in exile that we eventually learn the reasons behind. Christopher has what’s best described as a murky relationship with his stepmother and, one day he calls her to ask for (more) money, plucking at her heart (purse)strings by explaining that he has kept a secret for fifteen years.
The stepmother gets in touch with the police and from this point onwards the apparently modest, almost boring couple begin to reveal some increasingly disturbing peculiarities. Susan’s outwardly vigorous nature hides an inner fragility as Oscar winner Olivia Colman delivers yet another career-best performance, breathing life into what it one of the series greatest successes in a disturbing portrayal of a woman permanently walking the tightrope that spans the gap between madness and sanity, catching you off guard time and time again as her gaze leaves you wondering whether we’re dealing with and incredibly innocent and naïve individual, or someone with horrendous inner demons. By her side, Christopher Edwards serves as her great white knight and protector, almost henpecked, but with something in his eye, a spark that also leads us to intuit a borderline personality and stellar performance from David Thewlis, known for his role as Remus Lupine in the Harry Potter film saga or his appearance in Wonder Woman, War Horse and Seven Years in Tibet.
One of the singularities of this series is its departure from the realistic overtones that generally mark most productions dealing with criminal cases and on occasion we’re treated to images tinged with color or the appearance of a character in a scene where they are not actually physically present. Susan’s immense, quasi-unhealthy love of cinema provides audiences with elements from the movies she adores, as these seep into the action, ranging in resources that at times succumb to the aesthetic, but that in general, and beyond the formal beauty, convey the idea that the couple’s connection with reality is somewhat feeble.
The way the series portrays the police handling the case also deviates from the norm, with several rather peculiar eccentricities and relationships between the different investigators that, at times, shift the entire focus into the terrain of black comedy, especially since the cops can’t get their heads around the natural and courteous demeanor of two people suspected of having taken part in a double homicide. In fact, this contrast between civility and the criminal mind is at the very heart of Landscapers, as this most British trait of extreme repression being one of the most commonly highlighted characteristics. Hitchcock always pointed out the delight with which the English consume lurid criminal exploits with a nonchalance that prevents them from showing any type of emotion, showcasing this as a national trait.
The Edwards reveal details of their personalities and, above all, their biography during the police interrogations, but I won’t go into that here, as a large part of what makes this production so special is precisely the elegance with which the details are discovered, that and the show’s creators’ ability to provoke incredulous series fans, gobsmacked and confused as to what to think of this friendly couple, whether they should be met with empathy or dread.
The writing talents of Ed Sinclair are behind the scenes, together with the masterful staging of Anglo-Japanese actor and director William Sharpe. With a little help from his friend Tom Kingsley, the filmmaker debuted with the BAFTA nominated Black Pond in the Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer category. However, Kingsley joined the team a little later as their first choice for director’s chair had been Alexander Payne (Sideways, Nebraska).
The series has a straightforward, pill format, with only four 45-minute episodes. Everything is explained in condensed and precise way and the economy of footage helps viewers to avoid losing their way along fruitless, meandering paths that go nowhere. That said, the four-part series affords us ample time and space to penetrate the armor of two such unique characters, who at first may come across as laughable, then fearsome. As more is revealed, we find ourselves forced to ponder the disturbing question of whether, in reality, and despite the blood that may allegedly be on their hands, could they also be victims here?