Created and written by Abi Morgan, the six-episode River stars Stellan Skarsgård as Detective Inspector (DI) John River of London’s Metropolitan Police Service and Nicola Walker as Detective Sergeant (DS) Jackie “Stevie” Stevenson, River’s deceased partner. If she’s deceased, you ask, then how can she be the co-star? The answer is what makes River such a uniquely compelling police drama.
You see, River, who had very strong feelings for his partner, witnessed Stevie’s murder. Horrified and devastated, River replays the scene in his mind over and over again (and we get to watch the grisly murder over and over again, which for me is the show’s only major flaw). Despite being excluded from the case, River becomes understandably obsessed with finding the killer and uncovering the circumstances behind Stevie’s death. In the course of that hunt, River is frequently accompanied (haunted) by Stevie herself, who talks to River about many things, including his handling of the investigation. In the meantime, River has to work with his new partner, Ira (Adeel Akhtar), who is understandably concerned about River’s obsession and psychological health but shows a remarkable level of patience.
In the wrong hands, such a plot could easily fail, but the superb writing and acting in this series make it one of the best TV serials ever made. Featuring an extraordinary level of character development, this show is much more about the people involved than about the investigation of the murder. Some viewers will no doubt be very frustrated by this, but I loved it. The melancholic River is a wonderfully original TV detective creation and Skarsgård’s performance is nothing short of sublime, though Walker and Akhtar are also marvellous in support.
River is also notable in its deft commentary on social issues related to racism, sexism and classism. Add to all of this the stylish direction and beautiful cinematography and you have a piece of classic television (and it’s available on Netflix). My second-favourite (The Missing was number one) in this ten-part series. Not to be missed (if you can handle the graphic murder scene), River gets an easy ****. My mug is up.