‘River’ Episode 5 review: ‘What the hell was she up to?’

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With only two episodes left, River moves all of its plot lines along speedily this week, overlapping the personal and professional relationships of everyone concerned, building anticipation for next week’s finale.

Stellan Skarsgard continues to be excellent, and – despite the emotional beats of the script – the scenes where he is at his best relate to the ongoing Stevie (Nicola Walker) murder case. Soon he starts to piece together the connection between Stevie and Chrissie’s judge husband, Tom (Michael Maloney) and realises just how deep and how personal the killing may have been.

“What the hell was she up to?” Chrissie (Lesley Manville) asks. “And who was she so frightened of?”

River Chrissie (LESLEY MANVILLE)

As the investigation intensifies, it makes for compulsive viewing. What is also admirable is that layers keep being added to the mystery this late on in the story.

That Haida, the man who was murdered in the library, was under Stevie’s watchful eye as she was trying to secure him legitimate immigration into Britain, is made relevant as a motive. As is the fact that an unknown man, came to the library posing as a cleaner, to dispose of the evidence. That man, a Polish immigrant called Fedor (Marko Leht) was apparently hired to do the clean up by an unknown source, meaning someone very high up is pulling the strings.

Acting-wise, credit must go to Utopia’s Adeel Akhtar, as the put upon Ira, who has been landed with River as a police partner since Stevie’s death. Akhtar has very much made the part his own, being part common man philosopher and a sobering tough love voice when River gets out of control.

River Ira King (ADEEL AKHTAR)

However, the devoted family man is in some way envied by River, and by the audience, which is why we care when he is viciously attacked in the episode. Given the foreshadowing of calling River before going in to confront the suspect (and River hanging up), I felt sure he was going to die from the altercation, leaving River more bereft than before. It is a credit that River learns more from a life saved than a life lost. That in itself, is perhaps the life lesson in this series for River.

Which brings us to the relationship in the present he has with Rosa, which goes through a few milestones in this episode. We see that he has attended Rosa’s ‘Living with Voices’ support group but is still fighting demons and is scathingly negative about the people in attendance in order to rationalise himself. In a quite personal attack (but a beautiful, impassioned monologue for Skarsgard) he berates all in attendance at the meeting for their attention seeking before becoming calmly hostile with Rosa (Georgina Rich) over her being in her 30s and not having children.

“Whatever warped messiah complex you had better be shared by those you love, rather than those you wouldn’t share a cup of coffee with outside this room.”

Rosa is explored too, which is great as Rich is a brilliantly subtle actress. The hurtful comments towards her, from River, as well as the revelation that she lost a child when it was six weeks old are welcome character developments, even five episodes in. It also provides a better understanding of why she is such a compassionate counsellor.


However, it is a little difficult to see why she would forgive River, given the vitriol he expressed towards her. As Chrissie says herself:

“Why would a beautiful thirty something like Rosa, go for a balding, opinionated older man. God, the arrogance of you men!”

Speaking of Chrissie, Lesley Manville is poignant and fragile in her performance here, as she realises that not only has her husband been unfaithful to her (with a court appointed interpreter) but that he had a stake in dealings where judges were taking substantial bribes to allow illegal immigrants to stay in the country.

He is also positively identified from CCTV as the man who paid Fedor to cover up the stabbing, leading to a final act where Chrissie watches as Tom is taken in by the police for perverting the course of justice.

River continues to grip its audience with the right mix of police investigation drama and emotional, character driven development. I am genuinely looking forward to seeing how they tie up all the loose ends relating to River and Rosa, Stevie’s murder and Tom’s involvement in it.

One thing is for sure, it will be essential viewing after tonight’s exciting penultimate instalment.


Aired at 9pm on Tuesday 10 November 2015 on BBC One.

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