No one does crime procedurals like the British (especially the BBC). Flawed, tormented detectives, obsessed, depressed, even delusional. Netflix is now streaming River one of the strangest detective series I’ve screened in recent years. Starring Swedish actor Stellan Skårskgard (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Good Will Hunting, The Avengers) as DI John River, the six-part series begins with a police chase. The middle-aged River chases a young man wanted for questioning in a murder. Accompanied by his partner DS Jackie “Stevie” Stevenson, River chases the young man up the stairs of an apartment block and out onto a shaky fire escape, where the boy plunges over the side to his death.
Exhausted and out of breath, River returns to Stevie, and it is only then we realize that Stevie, is, in fact, dead, and River has been talking to a hallucination!
But she’s not the only hallucination that torments River during the series. He is haunted by victims, dead suspects, and Dr. Thomas Neill Cream, long-dead serial killer known as the Lambeth Poisoner, played the always brilliant Eddie Marsan (Ray Donovan, Jonathan Strange &Mr Norrell). Like the fictional Ian Rutledge in Charles Todd’s fantastic post-WWI mystery novels, River is often aided, but often equally hindered, by his trauma-induced hallucinatory partners.
The series focus is on solving Stevie’s murder. Is it somehow connected to her criminal family? Or something else in what is revealed as a life much more secretive than her long-time partner knew? Underlying it all is River’s grief over Stevie’s death, and his love for her, which in all those years, he’d never confessed to her. River is aided by his endlessly patient (and slightly freaked-out) new partner DS Ira King (Adeel Akhtar).
I honestly did not know the answer to the mystery of Stevie’s murder until sometime during the final episode as evidence is presented and discarded, secrets are revealed, and dots are connected (and, sometimes, disconnected).
Skårsgard is excellent as the stoic detective grappling psychological issues that reach back much further than the murder of his partner. Equally brilliant is the rest of the cast. The script by Abi Miller is terrific, though she has admitted culling the idea from Anthony Minghella’s Truly, Madly, Deeply, which, like River, involves the inability to let go of grief and get on with it. (Ironically, Michael Maloney appears in both River and Truly, Madly, Deeply.)
Netflix and other streaming services have turned it up to “11” on streamable, binge-able series. There are so many to choose from, it’s almost impossible to know where to turn next. I recommend River for an intense, unique take on the British police procedural mystery.