‘River’ Episode 4 review: Skarsgard and Manville are a pleasure to watch

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Two thirds of the way through the series, BBC One’s River is holding its own in the drama stakes, as it strikes a near perfect balance between the conflicted mental state of our main protagonist and the investigation into his police partner’s death.

Unlike previous instalments, where there has been a third police related plot to anchor the main character drama, this is absent this week. However, the episode is all the better for it as we get to focus more on the main stories and see momentum in them as a result.

The investigation into Stevie’s (Nicola Walker) murder is distinctly ramped up, as the police close in on potential killer, Haida Mohammed. A raid on the kebab shop where he supposedly worked, a televised appeal hoping to identify the potential shooter and further visitations from Stevie’s ghost all add notable weight. Despite all this quality drama, it is the effect of Stevie’s betrayals that has the most profound effect on River, as he starts to see the shooter, who taunts him for not taking what he had with Stevie further.

“What did you expect? You thought she’d wait around for you? She got lonely. Love finds where it falls….The difference between you and me, River. When she was lonely, I didn’t run away.”

River Stevie (NICOLA WALKER)

Director Tim Fywell does a beautiful job here, creating a vast array of contrasting tones for each scene that make everything stand out and have a lovely, cinematic tone. This ranges from cold blues of Rosa’s counsellor office, the earthy warmth of Chrissie’s home and the gritty realism of the poorly lit kebab shop during the raid. One of the aspects that makes River so beautiful to watch is the landscape of London, which becomes a character in itself, none more so than in this episode. Fywell’s artful direction compliments all of these with strong visual flair.

River’s guilt builds, and is palpable, such is the honest portrayal of Stellan Skarsgard as the haunted River. The realisation that River didn’t know Stevie, that she could be so disloyal and secretive with him, is beginning to shine through, and its heartbreaking to watch. Skarsgard is utterly compelling as the torn and mentally scarred Inspector.

However, he is not the only one who gets to emote here. After playing a relatively secondary role in recent weeks. Lesley Manville takes front stage and gives a beautifully earnest performance as she drunkenly exhibits her life (four ungrateful kids and a stoned husband), before awkwardly making a drunken pass at River, adding further complication to their already tense relationship.

River Chrissie (LESLEY MANVILLE)

Skarsgard and Manville are a pleasure to watch together and it’s wonderful to see her character gain some notable depth. Though quite why River is the object of her (and Stevie’s) desire is rather odd. He’s not a hugely desirable candidate over all. And any romantic tension we wish to see is via his counsellor Rosa (the excellent Georgina Rich).

Despite all of this, River is finding some solace through Rosa, who displays real empathy over his condition and encourages him to join a group of similar people who hear voices, in an effort to embrace his loss. That loss, for Stevie, is very much still present.

“Find your way through your insanity. Find the order in your chaos. Otherwise, how will you ever find me?”

While it has its bleak moments, River continues to provide quality drama while showing a progression in the main police plot as well as River’s mental state.

With a tragic miss in finding Stevie’s killer, as well as his complex emotional state, River continues to draw you in with its beautiful performances, sharp scripting and visually sumptuous direction.


Aired at 9pm on Tuesday 3 November 2015 on BBC One.

> Order River on DVD on Amazon.

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