52 Authors: Week 49 - Thomas Merton
"a deep aversion to theological precision"


The title is in italics because it's the name of a TV show: yet another superior BBC crime drama. The twist, or gimmick you might say, in this one, is that the detective--the "River" of the title--has some pretty serious mental problems: he sees and has conversations with people who aren't really there. The story revolves around his efforts to solve the murder of his partner (working, not romantic). As is typically the case with these British efforts, the writing, acting, and general production are really fine, with a very convincing cast of characters. River is played by a Scandinavian actor, Stellan Skarsgård (I think that funny "a" is Swedish, right?), who apparently has a good reputation, although this was the first I'd heard of him. Also apparently in possession of a prior and favorable reputation is the writer/director, Abi Morgan, who wrote the Margaret Thatcher biographical picture, The Iron Lady, which I haven't seen (though I would expect any portrayal of Thatcher to be negative and not necessarily fair).

It occurs to me as I write this that there are only one or two characters who didn't engage my sympathy to at least some degree, no matter how flawed they are--and one of those is a 19th century serial killer who is a very unwelcome visitor to River. As crime stories go it's not particularly lurid, and although it can fairly be described as "dark" it is not excessively so. I found the ending very powerful, as did my wife, and we aren't necessarily affected by the same things. We started watching it only because we were looking for something that wasn't more than an hour long and it appeared in a list of recommendations on Netflix based on other things we'd watched. We had no idea what to expect and were soon very much engrossed. 


It may only be available on Netflix in the U.S. It's tagged as a "Netflix original", which I guess is not exactly right. 


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I could say a lot more but don't want to give very much away. Two more notes: it's only six episodes, so you're not signing up for a long commitment. And if we take the first series of Broadchurch as the acme of this kind of thing, I'd place River (though it's very different) below it, but above most others.

Love the timing! ;-)

I'll be looking for this as soon as I can.

(Oh, and for those who haven't seen it, don't forget the Danish Killing. The first series of that is way up in Broadchurch territory in my book.)

It's still not on Netflix, alas, or at least wasn't the last time I looked. Guess I should check Amazon.

I get Netflix but I use it so seldom I have forgotten how. Not sure if I can get it on my laptop. I'm going to try and see if I can watch this. It's not available on amazon video - I already looked when you mentioned it yesterday.

I have the 3 box sets of The Killing - if you can wait till I get back to SB I would lend it to you.

The Man in the High Castle, which I finished watching last night, is good but not great. It was *very* good down to the middle, and then seemed to slack in the last four or so episodes. But still pretty gripping. From a review I read it bears no relation to the Novel from which it was drawn.

Grumpy might think differently if she's seen it, but my impression of The Iron Lady was that it was a total whitewash. You'd get the impression from it that the worst thing Thatcher ever did while winning the Falklands War and the Cold War was to neglect her children and correct her cabinet colleagues' grammar. All while inexplicably being hated by trade unionists.

It's mostly a study in the frailty and confusion of a once-powerful woman in the grip of Alzheimer's, with flashbacks to when she was powerful, and from that point of view I thought quite well acted.

Oh, I meant to mention that earlier. I thought it was a very sympathetic portrayal.


Not wanting to hijack another thread, but speaking of films: St Nicholas brought When Marnie Was There, a Ghibli production which is quite a touching story of a socially isolated and awkward girl (a mixed-race orphan sent for health reasons to spend the summer at the seaside with relatives of her foster parents), who makes friends with what might be either a ghost or a figment of her imagination. I've still not seen Arrietty though.

I've worked it out - I've even had a glimpse of River on the site!

Let's hope I can just remember my new password until tomorrow, because I don't have time to watch TV tonight!

I saw The Iron Lady on an aeroplane and found it a little affecting.

I will of course be very interested in hearing what people think of River.

I read the "good but not great" verdict on MITHC earlier today, from Jim Geraghty at National Review, who went on at length (and without me) about exactly what was wrong and right about it. But I got the impression that he also thought it faltered after a good beginning.

I just watched the first episode of River! Very proud of my ingenuity! I had not realized it was that easy to get back to netflix after forgetting one's way in. I don't think i'd ever tried before to watch it on my laptop. There is a TV in this apartment but I have no idea how to turn it on.

I will read the NR review - very interesting to be corroborated!

Congratulations! (on your Netflix victory)

It somewhat reminds me of the English 'Life on Mars'. I'm told there was an American remake of that which was not so good. The English Life on Mars was about a police man from the present (2008 or so) who somehow landed back in the police force in Manchester in the 1970s. There were a lot of comical touches about the differences between then and now, particularly the sexism and racism of the 1970s Mancunian police (this is a topic of humour by contrast, not of moralizing). There is also a hallucinatory quality to it because from time to time the hero 'hears' the actual present he came from, often through the Radio or TV. He can see some things the others cannot. Maybe 'hallucinatory' is too strong, but there's an element of bestrangement. The only kind of scifi I like is time travel, which is why I had some time for Man in the High Castle and for Life on Mars. There was a sequel to Life on Mars, sent in the 1980s, but I never watched it because I heard that my favourite character from the first series, the 1970s co-partner of the time-travelling hero, becomes a bent copper and generally goes to the bad. I enjoyed Life on Mars a lot because I went to Manchester University in the 1970s and it recreated it beautifully.

Ha--time travel is one of the sci-fi forms I don't much like, because I can't manage the requisite suspension of disbelief. At least not for travel to the past. To the future is ok. It's actually even theoretically possible in a limited way without postulating some currently unknown new physical principle. But with travel to the past I can't stop noticing the logical contradictions.

Nevertheless Life on Mars might be fun.

Film recommendation: the other night I watched the recent version of Horton Foote's A Trip to Bountiful. The film was based on the 2013 Broadway revival of the play which was a Tony Award winner, and which changed the original play from a white to a black cast.

I was hesitant about this film for a couple reasons. The 1986 version with Geraldine Page and John Heard is a favorite of mine, and I was concerned that the changing of the cast from white to black would bring unecessary race or PC elements to the play. In addition, the fact that the movie was a "Lifetime" co-production had me worried about the schmaltz level.

Well, my hesitations turned out to be unwarranted. The film is excellent all the way around. Cicely Tyson is outstanding in the lead role of Carrie Watts, as is Blair Underwood as her hen-pecked son Ludie. Vanessa Williams plays her domineering daughter-in-law Jessie Mae a good bit more broadly and humorously than in the earlier film, but the change of approach works.

The only negative is the fact that since it's a made-for-TV film, the cuts for what would have been the stationbreaks are a bit annoying, but it's a small complaint.

I've never seen the play, but I imagine that the smaller scale of this film captures the feel of it somewhat better than the more expansive 1986 version. In this version there are really only six characters who appear more than just in passing.

In any case, it's very much worth watching, and compares favorably to the older film in virtually every way.

The older very is probably one of my 10 favorite films--if I had ever made a list. I really can't remember more than 4 characters that appear in more than just passing, but it's been a while.

I'll have to check that out, although I have to say that I think the original is just about perfect.


"I'll have to check that out, although I have to say that I think the original is just about perfect."

Oh, I do too. That's partly why I was so hesitant about this one. But I was very pleasantly surprised!

I imagine that story would work with any race of people. It would only be the politicizing of it that would make it bad, because it's not a political story. It's just the story of the way things are.


"It would only be the politicizing of it that would make it bad, because it's not a political story. It's just the story of the way things are."

Exactly. It was the potential for politicization that I was concerned about. Thankfully, I was wrong.

Oh my goodness, I just watched the first episode of this. It was the most riveting thing I've seen in ages. I loved it!


Cool! I noticed an ad for it on Netflix yesterday and thought I might even watch it again. Unusual for me w a series.

Well, Bill wasn't here, so I might watch the first one again tomorrow and I won't really mind. There's a lot to take in first time around.


I've been waiting for this to show up on U.S. DVD but it hasn't so far. I may get my friend from England to bring me back the UK DVD if it's reasonably priced.

Watched three very good series over the past month or two:

Happy Valley (series 1) -- 6 part British series about a woman cop in a tough town in Northern England. Excellent performance by the lead actress, Sarah Lancashire.

Salamander -- Belgian 12-parter with a tough but morally minded cop getting caught up in investigating a bank robbery that turns out to be more than it seems. This one is in slightly more conventional thriller territory, but it's smart, very well-acted and excellently paced.

Line of Duty (second series) -- watched the first series a couple years ago and liked it, so watched this one over the past few days (it's a 6-parter). I think it's absolutely fantastic until the ending, which I found disappointing. Still very much worth watching, however, as you may disagree. The acting is excellent, especially that of the two lead police officers, and Keeley Hawes as the main "person of interest." Her performance is outstanding.

For a couple of weeks now I've been wanting to do a follow-up post on the subject of British actors, and Happy Valley was going to be one of my examples. The two women who are the main characters in it are great, especially the main one, Catherine. They are utterly convincing. And one of the things I really admire about this and other shows is that they include middle-aged women who really seem like middle-aged women. In general the female characters aren't implausibly glamorous, looking like they are more concerned with their looks than anything else, which is so often the case in American tv ( if the bits I see are representative).

Anyway, I've seen both seasons of Happy Valley and they are both excellent, though pretty grim. The title of course is ironic. Haven't seen the other two.

Yes, this so true not only of the female characters, but of the men, too. You might not have noticed that so much. ;-)

This is also true of many foreign films and it's one reason why I like them.


I'm sure you're right about the men. But is the contrast between the American and British men as great as that between the American and British women? The American men (on the basis of my limited knowledge) don't seem as pretty-boyish as the American women seem vain-beauty-ish. (Hope that makes sense.)

And speaking of non-pretty-boy male actors---interesting detail about Happy Valley: Mr. Mosely of Downton Abbey is in the second series, playing a *very* different character.

I watched the first episode of RIver again night before last year so Bill could see it and enjoyed it just as much. Then we watched the second and had a hard time stopping there. Watched two last night. I foresee finishing it this evening.


I've forgotten how many episodes there are. At least half a dozen, I think?

Perhaps of interest: the music from Broadchurch has finally been released on CD. It was previously available only via download.

The guy that did the music, Olafur Arnalds, has some solo recordings available. The one called 'For Now I Am Winter' is very good -- quite similar in feel to the Broadchurch music.



So have you finished it?

I'm interested in the Broadchurch music, but probably not at cd price. Maybe it will show up on eMusic. There's some other stuff by him there, though I don't see the Winter one.

Yes. Once we started watching, we couldn't stop for very long.


I totally forgot to look this one up. I must fix that.

I finished watching this series this evening. I hadn't meant to, but ended up watching the 5th and 6th episodes rather than just the 5th. It is rather bleak and colourless, but hard to stop watching.

If I haven't mentioned it before, I feel I should put in a plug for Detectorists, an understated but hilarious comedy series that is beautifully filmed and rich in colour, although easily just as devoid of implausible glamour. (There's a trailer here.)

It's on Netflix. Sounds promising.

I watched the final episode of River last night, and completely understand the enthusiasm. Very, very good series, and well worth rewatching.

Glad you liked it. I generally only watch these things a second time by semi-accident:

"Have we seen this one?"

"No, I don't think so, let's watch it."


Ten minutes later: "Oh, wait..."

Though that's usually about individual episodes of a series, like Morse or Lewis. But anyway, yeah, this one might be worth it.

Over the weekend I watched the Stellan Skarsgard film In Order of Disappearance and would highly recommend it if you like dark comedies. One reviewer described it as a sort of mash-up of 'Fargo' and 'Taken', and I guess that's fair as far as it goes. It is somewhat Coen-esque, but it's more serious morally than their work generally is, even if it is very funny in spots. And the acting is great, especially from Skarsgard.

Sounds good. It's on Netflix and the description is sort of striking: "mild-mannered snowplow driver Nils sparks a war between a Norwegian mobster and his Serbian rival."

Not related, except that it's something I'm watching: a crime drama called Low Winter Sun. It was an AMC series in a somewhat similar vein to The Wire and Breaking Bad. It's set in disintegrating Detroit, and is *very* dark in every way, even visually. I'm not recommending it exactly, but pointing it out for those who like this kind of thing. It centers on two cops who kill a third. It wasn't successful and ran for only one reason. I think it's well done and am finding it pretty gripping (one 45-minute episode a day while I eat lunch). But it's so grim and sometimes gruesome that I can't actively recommend it.

It was first a BBC miniseries which doesn't seem to be on Netflix.

I thought the end of River was so silly. I hardly ever go out of my way to watch any of these series you all talk about, but I do like Stellan Skarsgard quite a bit. Now that I think about it though, all I remember about the series at this point is the end, so maybe that makes it good.

~~the description is sort of striking: "mild-mannered snowplow driver Nils sparks a war between a Norwegian mobster and his Serbian rival."~~

Without giving anything away, Nils (Skarsgard) does this by investigating the death of his son, whom the police believe died of an overdose. Nils doesn't accept this, and goes looking for answers himself.

Low Winter Sun -- I watched the first three or four episodes when it aired on AMC and liked it, but then missed a couple and didn't go back to it. I see that it's on DVD now, so I'll have to watch the rest. As you say, it's very dark.

It gets darker.

I hate to say it but I don't exactly remember the ending of River, except that I thought it was good.

By the way, a UK friend says that Broadchurch 3 has just finished, and has risen back to season 1 levels of excellence. The series is now complete -- there'll be no season 4, apparently.

At the end he is dancing with his partner, Mac.

I thought that was silly but rather endearing.


I liked it.

Glad to hear that about Broadchurch.

Me too -- I found it quite moving, actually!

I was reminded of the end of Return of the Jedi for some reason. :)


Ive avoided the reviews of the third Season of Broadchurch in the DT because there are bound to be unintentional spoilers.

I ran into one about Low Winter Sun earlier today. I was curious about one of the actors, Mark Strong, because I saw a mention that he's British. Which he is. I never would have guessed. He seems every bit a tough big-city American. But in the course of finding that out I hit a sentence into which the words "(spoiler alert)" were interjected, immediately followed by a major spoiler. Fortunately it wasn't a big surprise.

Broadchurch 3 just finished here in New Zealand as well, and, gosh, I can't believe anyone actually thought it was well done. I thought it was awful in just about every way.

Did you like the first two?

I thought the first one was very well done, but I found much of the story line in Broadchurch 2 implausible, and at some points downright laughable. It did hold my attention, though. Broadchurch 3 not so much even in that respect.

I'll be interested in seeing if I react the same way. I think most people who liked 1 a lot thought 2 was not as good.

Broadchurch 3 is on DVD in the UK, and my friend is bringing a copy for me when he visits next month.

"I've avoided the reviews of the third Season of Broadchurch in the DT because there are bound to be unintentional spoilers."

Ditto. I saw one headline that described the finale as "anti-climactic," but you see that pop up at the end of virtually every show nowadays, so I don't put any stock in it, really.

Mark Strong played the same character in the UK 'Low Winter Sun.' And Lennie James, who plays Det. Geddes, is also British. He's a regular on The Walking Dead, and also starred in another very good UK series, Line of Duty.

Yes I enjoyed Season 1 and 2. I think David Tennant is brilliant

I enjoyed both seasons 1 & 2 of Broadchurch, maybe season 2 more if that was the one with the older actress who I can picture but not readily name....she was the solicitor (is that the correct term?)

What is the "DT"

Mark Strong is a very good actor. He was in the newer Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - a movie that I really love with Gary Oldman as George Smiley

I'll take a guess that DT is Daily Telegraph. Charlotte Rampling is the older actress you're thinking of. Yes, that was season 2.

It never occurred to me to watch the newer Tinker Tailor. I didn't see how they could possibly put that story into a two-hour movie.

I hate to sound all golly-gee-isn't-that-amazing, but--it does amaze me that British actors can so convincingly portray Americans. Not just any Americans but these big-city blue-collar men. Not just the voices, which are impressive enough, but the whole vibe. It never would have occurred to me that Lennie James is British, either.

Here's a sort of intro-trailer-advertisment for the series that gives you some glimpses of both characters in and out of character.


I guess the easy comment here is that the British and Australian actors are stage trained and real actors, and American actors are simply celebrities that end up acting. That is a generalization which isn't always true, of course. Then there are the black British actors that take the good parts away from African-American actors over here. Partly because of my first comment, but also there are so many more roles for them here than in Britain.

American actors tend toward the old Hollywood star model like John Wayne, where the actor has a distinct persona that's pretty much the same in whatever role. It's not as much that way as it once was but it's still a tendency.

"black British actors that take the good parts away from African-American actors over here." Idris Elba as Stringer Bell. I think that was the first of these instances that came to my attention. Still pretty amazed by that.

I think that in England there is much more overlap between stage, film and TV acting than there is here. In the States it seems like there's a bit of a wall between film and TV -- actors don't cross back and forth nearly as much. Thus, generally speaking, you get the better actors gravitating towards film while the lesser lights center around TV. In England it seems that a lot of the quality actors are happy to do both.

It's often referred to as something a bit unusual when big-name film stars appear in TV shows. It's talked about as if it gives the TV show additional credibility.

I just watched the last episode of Low Winter Sun and am upgrading my opinion from Not Really Recommended to Recommended With Qualification--the qualification being "for those who like dark crime dramas."

It deserved to be renewed, but then the story is wrapped up in ways that would have made it difficult to start a new one with the same characters. Very complicated story, too.

I avoided seeing the new version of Tinker Tailor with Gary Oldman for a long time because I thought no one could possibly do better than the original version with Alec Guinness. Boy was I ever wrong. The new version is terrific, and Oldman may be even better than Guinness as Smiley.

About British actors being "stage trained and real actors, and American actors are simply celebrities that end up acting" -- somewhere I read that because they're trained and real actors they've got a real love of acting and so do it every chance they get.

There's a huge satisfaction when an actor plays to 'type' - it gives them the predictability which is very important in comedy. There was an older English actress who always played the shrew in drama after drama - so one knew she was a shrew before she opened her mouth and one knew that everything she did would be in character. It wasn't Maggie Smith - I forgot her name, but I think she has gone to her reward.

I think English people enjoy the pantomime element of the actor playing precisely the character one has come to expect. And then they play it up and up.

I'm not sure that English actors don't play to a certain 'type' almost as much as the Americans. Maybe not in the strong sense of Clint playing Clint in every movie, but playing to a general type. I used to love 'Frost,' but some people said that they could never take the detective's woes seriously, because to them he would always be Del Boy.

Did anyone watch Big Little Lies? The chap who played the abusive husband said he will never get a part other than a villain ever again. It must be the same for the chap who was the 'devil' in No Country for Old Men. He did an almost comic rendition of the villain role in a Bond film. Javier Someone.

Oh yeah, I love those old Hollywood characters--the Jimmy Stewart character, the Bogart character. They were great achievements of a kind, just not the same thing as Idris Elba becoming Stringer Bell. I saw a little documentary about Stewart a while back in which one of his children made the point that what he did was actually very studied--he wasn't just being himself. But it was a one-trick-pony thing.

One reason Double Indemnity is not my favorite noir, as it is apparently for a lot of critics, is that Fred McMurray is forever imprinted in my mind as the guy in Flubber and other silly things.

Didn't see Big Little Lies. Funny about the evil guy in No Country (Bardas?)--he wasn't as scary to me as he was in the book, and as he should have been, because I had formed a completely different mental image of him.

Ok, Marianne, I'm convinced, I'll give the new TT a try. I think maybe I'll read the book again. It's one of the really great spy novels.

Marianne yes Im going to give it a shot. Simply love the old one

Anna Proudie

19th century comic novels are full of stock characters

Well that is a rich mistake! It was Geraldine McEwan, who played Mrs Proudie in Barchester Towers.

I have that same problem with Double Indemnity.

The meanest April Fool's joke I saw was that David Tennant was coming back as the new Doctor. He certainly isn't one of those who plays the same character: Doctor Who, the guy in Broadchurch, and Barry Crouch, Jr.


That's funny--I couldn't remember the name but Geraldine McEwan was exactly the person I thought of when you said that (QG) about the person who always plays shrews. But I'm fairly sure she also played Miss Marple.

I thought about David Tennant, too. Definitely very versatile.

Well, Bardem did play the priest in To The Wonder, and thankfully he looked and acted nothing like Anton Chigurh!

For my money the most versatile actor around right now is Tom Hardy. It seems he can do almost anything, and do it well.

Of course, what is "acting" in a Malick film?

Anton Chigurh--I didn't even realize it was the same person!


Watched Low Winter Sun this past week. I agree that it was very good, if rather grim. I was frustrated by the ending, but then recalled that it wasn't supposed to have been the ending, as the show was not renewed for a second season.

It would have been very interesting to see how all those plot elements would have developed.

Yes. It's a shame. I guess there's no hope of a reconsideration on the network's part. I think they were hoping it would be another Breaking Bad or The Wire, and it wasn't as good as those, but still worth continuing.

I almost hate to keep doing this, but: Marcella. Another dark crime drama, this one British, but written and directed by the Swedish (?) guy who did The Bridge, which I haven't seen. I watched one 45-minute episode a day of Marcella on Netflix over the past couple of weeks, which showed admirable restraint on my part (not to binge on it, I mean). Like LWS, it's very dark--the detective is herself fairly messed up--and I wouldn't praise it to the skies, but for those of us who like that sort of thing, it's another one worth watching.

But aside from the darkness, one warning: it ends with one hugely important question unanswered. I hadn't realized it was meant to be a series, and was stunned when I realized that the credits were about to start and that issue had been left unresolved. Not only that one, but a few others that are pretty important. I think I actually yelled "NO!" There is a second season in the works.

I've not heard of Marcella, but I've got two on request through the library -- Line of Duty 3 (UK -- the first two are very good) and a French one called The Disappearance, about a teenage girl who goes missing at a music festival.

I put Line of Duty on my Netflix queue. The Disappearance is in their catalog but apparently not currently available.

I think anyone who liked Low Winter Sun would also like Marcella.

You will like Line of Duty. The first series stars Lennie James, and he's just as good there as he was in L.W.S.

I finally got a watch to see River, and I simply loved it, and mostly because of Stellan Skarsgård. And I think the dance at the end was lovely, and that it worked so well because all of a sudden we see him move gracefully and joyfully, totally unlike the morose guy we'd been watching all the way through.

I hadn't thought of it that way, Marianne, but I think you're right. At first it just seems awkward and out of character, but then you realize, no, it's the real River that's coming through.

By the way, Nicola Walker, who plays his partner, has a pretty good series of her own going, Unforgotten. It's about a team of cops who work on cold cases. I've only seen the first series but I liked it a lot.

Ha -- I meant to say "finally got to watch". The way it is now it sounds as if I viewed it on a watch or something. :)

Will have to check out that new Nicola Walker series.

Funny, I had made a note to myself to mention Unforgotten in the next SNJ. I just saw the first series and it's quite good. It's six 45-minute episodes which PBS has just showed as three 90-minute ones. Nicola Walker seems to be one of those actresses who can comes across as an engaging presence. Though she could probably play an ugly one pretty effectively too.

I just can't make Smiley be Sirius Black--and now Churchill.


I have no mental image of any of those so no opinion. Except that my image of Smiley is the one Alec Guinness created.

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