REVIEW: Deadwater Fell, Episode 1

Deadwater Fell ep1

Deadwater Fell opens with a tragic event that devastates an entire community in the small village of Kirkdarroch in Scotland. But what makes the tragedy more striking is the contrast with the previously (seemingly) harmonious lives led by all the villagers.

The first episode focuses on setting the scene and establishing the relationships of the main characters before the inciting incident. There’s a mystery here but the miniseries wisely decides to bring the characters to life first before digging into the various clues from the crime scene. The most affecting crime dramas are those that depict the humanity of the characters more than the complexity of the case and that is what Deadwater Fell has managed to do in this opening chapter. The audience feels the weight of the tragedy because they were given a chance to get to know the victims first.

David Tennant is Dr. Tom Kendrick who lives with his wife Kate (Anna Madeley) and their three children. Their neighbors are their close friends, policeman Steve (Matthew McNulty) and his girlfriend Jess (Cush Jumbo). Kate and Jess are both teachers a the same primary school and share a close bond.

But as dramas go, everything is never as it seems. On the surface, they are living idyllic lives, raising their children and hanging out with each other. Happy moments between the families belie darkness beneath. There are the usual family tensions, such as those between Kate and her mother-in-law and Steve and his ex-wife. At a family picnic, there’s a glimpse of the state of Tom and Kate’s marriage as they quarrel. It’s revealed that Kate is taking antidepressants and Jess is having IVF.

There’s a slightly confusing flashback showing a furious Kate driving with Jess and her kids that leads to a car crash. But this isn’t the event that devastates the village.

That comes later, when a fire engulfs the Kendricks’ home, much to their neighbors’ horror. Steve manages to carry Tom and Kate outside but the latter is already dead while Tom is barely clinging to life. All three children perish in the fire and the adults are left to muse on the horror of such an injustice. The teachers struggle to find a way of explaining this loss to the other children who had been friends of the Kendricks.

Deadwater Fell ep1As Tom recuperates in the hospital, the investigation into the fire begins and certain disturbing facts come to light. It turns out that the members of the family were drugged before the fire began. Everyone begins to speculate about the culprit, whether it was a stranger, Kate being suicidal, or potentially the lone survivor of the inferno, Tom himself. In a brief scene, it is also revealed to the audience that Tom and Jess had had sex at one point though the extent of the affair is still unclear.

The episode ends with Tom regaining consciousness, while Jess and Steve wait by his bedside. Immediately he senses something wrong and, tellingly, asks what Kate has done. Thus, Deadwater Fell effectively sets the stage for a moving and potentially heartbreaking drama. Too early to say if it is indeed the next Broadchurch, but it’s a gripping start.