The Brilliant Meta-Narratives of Landscapers
You show me Olivia Colman and David Thewlis in anything, and I’m there, you know?
Landscapers, because of this, was a no-brainer for me; a true crime-based drama miniseries starring Colman and Thewlis as Susan and Christopher Edwards, seemingly-normal British expat couple who are called to return to England after the bodies of Colman’s parents are found buried in the garden of their council house. But, even though they’re both bloody brilliant, it’s not that which kept me watching – and ending up utterly blown away by – this exceptional four-episode wonder.
Now, I’ve written before about the complicated morality of adapting real-life tragedy into fictional entertainment before, but that’s not what I want to talk about here, and when I talk about the characters of Susan and Christopher, I’m not in any way trying to discuss their real-life counterparts. I think Landscapers is one of those rare pieces of mainstream media that manages to delve into a really metatextual place without losing its broad appeal, and I just need to take a moment to talk about what writer Ed Sinclair and director Will Sharpe have achieved with this genuinely brilliant marriage of the mundane and the extraordinary.
In Landscapers, fiction is a place that people go to find solace from the things they cannot bare in their real lives. It opens with Susan overspending on a vintage movie poster, one that reminds her of her childhood, of the actors and performances and movies that she loved so much as a child, and it’s soon revealed that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the ways that Susan has buried herself in fiction as a means of survival. An abusive childhood followed by a cruel and controlling adulthood at the hands of her parents has left Susan functionally unable to exist in the real world, without the help of her beloved classic movies to survive. The old movies she watched with her grandfather as a little girl become the lens through which she views the world, and, later, through which Christopher views it, too.
She surrounds herself not just with the curios that come with classic film – signed posters, figurines, autographed headshots – but in the black-and-white morality that came with these stories of good and the bad, the sheriff and the outlaw. The course of her life has been marked by this confusing, muddled sense of what is good and what is bad, as delivered by her abusive parents, and viewing her life through this removed lens of heroic and villainous drama softens those greys into something she seems better able to cope with.
Which is an interesting enough idea in its own right, but the way that Sinclair and Sharpe execute it truly is something to behold. Sharpe’s direction is a full-blown masterpiece, an inventive mix of the visuals of modern drama mixed with the shimmering sunsets and shooutouts of classic Western cinema. There’s period-piece shootouts in the middle of standard police interrogations, there’s sunset-soaked horseback rides sitting on the sofa at home, there’s the pure romance of retro cinema matched with the delightfully well-observed mundanity of their normal lives.
Despite the stark difference between the styles, there’s a seamlessness to the way these two worlds come together, these two versions of the Edwardses life, and it really serves the story in a way I love. Their relationship is deepened when we understand it through the lens of the impossible romance of Susan’s movies and stories, and it gives us room as viewers to make sense of why they chose to do the things they did. After years of real-life awfulness and averageness, the opportunity to live in the balmy heat of a fictional version of themselves makes perfect sense.
Landscapers finds a way to really delve into its meta-narratives in a way that elevates and enhances our understanding of the story and characters – it’s not just gimmick, but sharp-eyed observation of the importance of stories and why we’re so drawn to them. The way the show balances its reality and its fiction is genuinely masteful, and marks Landscapers as one of the great dramas of the decade so far. And no, not just for David Thewlis and Olivia Colman. Though they certainly help.
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(header image via NME)