John River (Stellan Skarsgård) is a hardened Swedish detective working in Britain. He is the station’s oddball; the only person who can bare to be around him for any lengthy period of time being his partner, Jackie ‘Stevie’ Stevenson (Nicola Walker). However, there’s one small problem – Stevie is dead. John witnessed her murder, and takes it upon himself to try and figure out who was behind his colleague’s untimely demise. He struggles to come to terms with her loss, and is hindered even further by what he calls ‘manifests’ – episodes where the ghosts of victims and long passed criminals such as Thomas Cream (Eddie Marsan) come back to haunt him – and is messed about further still when Stevie joins in on the action.
River is the BBC’s latest offering from the detective genre, and it is perhaps one of the slightly more original shows they’ve come up with in the past couple of years. When the Beeb showed us their winter previews, there were a few things that took my fancy, River being one of them. I decided to watch it when I found out that the wonderful Ray Donovan star, Eddie Marsan, was starring in it, and I’m very glad to have watched it as it was a good way to spend my Tuesday nights for six weeks.
At the helm of the show was the tremendous Stellan Skarsgård as the title character. He was beyond riveting to watch as you never could be 100% sure as to what he might do next. It was a truly amazing performance, and I genuinely think that if River had to be picked up by one of the big US stations, Skarsgård would be in the running for a Golden Globe. There were times where I felt awful because I’d laughed at the evidently tortured detective, but I did find the programme to often be darkly funny, so I couldn’t really help myself. The point I’m trying to make is Skarsgård’s performance was nothing short of amazing, and you should watch River just for him is nothing else.
Alongside Skarsgård was Nicola Walker who is ON FORM at the minute. Not only has she starred in this, but she was also the lead in ITV’s Unforgotten (also worth seeing) and is starring in a stage adaptation of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime. In River, it’s not hard to figure out why she is in such great demand currently. Stevie was a complicated character who had new information revealed about her each week, causing her relationship with John to change constantly. She was terrific to watch as she was the one person who really understood him, and it was when he was with her that we got to see the best of John.
Of course, not all the dead’uns that haunted John brought out the best in him. I said at the start that the main attraction to River for me was Eddie Marsan, who I came to admire after seeing him as Parkinson’s sufferer Terry Donovan in US import Ray Donovan. He played Victorian criminal Thomas Cream who really wound up John and certainly revealed his darker side to us. Marsan was magnificent as ever, and even though his role as relatively small in size, it certainly packed a punch.
I think mentioned before as well that I often found myself laughing at John whenever he was having a moment, but in all honesty I did laugh at other things too – IT WAS NOT JUST HIS SUFFERING I TOOK GREAT PLEASURE IN, OK? Just in case anyone was wondering…
Overall, I would definitely say that you should watch River. It was gripping from start to finish, but also had some very comical moments as well and, above all, a cop who sees the victims of all the murders he has to solve is just very different and certainly was a refreshing take on the tried and tested formula that most British police dramas are scared to deviate from. All I’m hoping for now is that River will return next year.