In 1998, William and Patricia Wycherley were gunned down at their home near Mansfield before being buried in the back garden. The murders went unnoticed until 2013 when, out of the blue, their daughter Susan and her husband Christopher Edwards confessed to killing them. Eight years later, and their grisly story is the subject of a new four-part HBO drama starring Olivia Colman and David Thewlis. It’s written by the actress’ real-life partner Ed Sinclair and features the type of experimental visuals rarely seen on TV.
We’re first introduced to Susan (Colman) and Chris (Thewlis) before their confession. They’re holed up in a dingy French apartment struggling to make ends meet. Chris can’t get a job because he doesn’t speak French well, while Susan fritters away their limited funds on rare movie merchandise. Obsessed with classic westerns and French actor Gérard Depardieu, the couple are clearly immersed in a world of fantasy.
Later, after Chris spills the beans about his in-laws to his mum on the phone (who promptly calls the police), they are taken in for questioning. The Edwards concoct a pre-agreed version of events they hope will keep them out of trouble: Patricia had cracked after years of marital torture and murdered William one night, before Susan sought vengeance and returned the favour with two bullets. She didn’t tell anyone for a whole week – leaving the bodies wrapped in sheets under a bed – but abruptly came clean to Chris over a chippy tea. He then proceeded to bury them beneath the lawn while announcing to the locals that the Wycherleys had simply moved away. Needless to say, their plan does not go smoothly.
Led by two bickering detectives played by Kate O’Flynn (No Offence) and Samuel Anderson (Gunpowder Milkshake), the resulting investigation makes for a more light-hearted affair than contemporary true crime dramas. Sinclair’s clever brand of black comedy is the perfect tonic for today’s trend of gruesome, voyeuristic telly – and the mainstream should take note.
Cast-wise, you couldn’t hope for better leads in Thewlis and Colman. It’s approaching three years since the latter’s life-changing Oscars win (Best Actress for The Favourite) – and in Landscapers she does more of her best work. The Father saw Colman dialling down to accommodate a devastating Anthony Hopkins, but as Susan, she’s able to revisit the childishness of her character from The Favourite, Queen Anne. Thewlis, meanwhile, helps to keep the show grounded with a more reserved performance. They’re equally stunning.
Another thing worth mentioning is that each episode is bookended by real news reports from 2013, reminding viewers of the grim truth behind the fiction. It’s a savvy choice following some wild flourishes which sees the action drift in and out of reality. This is a tale that defies belief, but in the hands of Colman, Thewlis, Sinclair and director Will Sharpe it feels utterly real – and completely unmissable.