Acorn TV’s Deadwater Fell is like bathing in bleak, like finding a big pot of bleak and stewing in it, like wading out into 100 degrees of bleak while wearing a coat and snow boots. It is bleak, so bleak that bleakness is its own character, standing in the corner of the room and staring over the proceedings with its dark, bloodshot eyes.
To be sure, bleakness is often the lure of these British dramas, which always seem to take place in small towns with lots of countryside, although I feel like Deadwater Fell may have been in competition with another bleak drama during the pitch meeting. “Look: We got Rupert Jones and Keeley Hawes in a bleak mystery where the wife dies in the opening episode!” “Oh yeah?” Deadwater creator Daisy Coulam retorts. “We got David Tennant and Cush Jumbo, and the wife and kids die in the opening episode. And we’re going to call our show Deadwater Fell?”
“Deadwater Fell? What does that mean?”
“I don’t know, but doesn’t it sound bleak?”
The four-part drama stars David Tennant and Dr. Tom Kendrick. I feel like Tennant has been running as far away as possible from his Doctor Who character for the last decade, because every time I tune in to watch one of his British dramas — and I’m a sucker for Tennant — they are invariably about unraveling marriages (The Politician’s Husband), dead kids (Broadchurch) or dead wives (Single Father). Deadwater Fell, meanwhile, is the holy trinity: Unraveling marriage, dead wife, dead kids, and let’s throw in some depression, mental illness, murder, domestic abuse, and some light stalking to go along with it.
That’s not at all to say that Deadwater Fell is bad — it’s not — and if you want to a drama about the lives of people who are probably worse off than you are, the Acorn TV series will take your mind off your real-life miseries and concentrate them on the miserable lives of fictional characters (in beautiful houses on beautiful countrysides).
Tom Kendrick and his wife, Kate (Anna Madeley) have what appears to be the perfect marriage and perfect family, as the opening episode takes pains to show us by dragging us to kid-friendly outing with their friends, Jess (Cush Jumbo) and Steve (Matthew McNulty). Cush works as a teacher with Kate, and they are confidantes, while Steve is a local cop. After what appears to be an enjoyable outing together, Jess and Steve turn in for bed that night only to notice out their window that the house of Tom and Kate is in flames. Steve dashes over to the Kendrick household, but he’s too late to save anyone other than Tom, who wakes up in the hospital from his smoke-inhalation injuries to learn that his wife and kids are dead.
Obviously, there’s more to it than that, and because it is a small town and presumably there’s no one else to do it, Steve is put in charge of the investigation into the death of his friends and, as he later learns, the man who was sleeping with his partner, Jess. The nominal hero of the story, however, is Jess, whose friendship with Kate and affair with Tom put her in a position to suspect something more sinister is afoot than an accidental fire or a depressed mother who decides to take her own life as well as that of her family.
The performances are terrific, and I do like seeing David Tennant in nasty, insidious roles, though I prefer the more deliciously villainous ones like in Fright Night rather than the brooding, abusive types. Cush Jumbo — who is outstanding in The Good Fight — is likewise excellent in Deadwater Fell given what she has to work with, which is basically a bleak Lifetime movie with British accents, which makes it feel much smarter than it is. “That’s not overwrought! It’s just British!”
That’s not really a knock against the series, either. Acorn TV is genuinely a fantastic streaming network, and Deadwater Fell is precisely the kind of show that its viewers crave. While I can’t say that I enjoyed it, it certainly kept me captivated throughout its four episodes.
Deadwater Fell is currently streaming on Acorn TV, which currently offers a 7-day free trial.