HBO’s ‘landscapers’ unearth bizarre love story at center of grisly crime

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Updated December 6, 2021, 4:47 p.m. ET

(Fair warning: this review will unearth some spoilers from HBO Landscapers.)

As an inventive limited series from HBO Landscapers begins, we meet the sweet-mannered couple Christopher and Susan Edwards – a pair cute enough to seem imported straight from a top British drama on PBS.

Susan, played by Olivia Colman, is an optimistic, bright-eyed former librarian with a secret habit of overpaying for movie memorabilia – especially posters of Gary Cooper’s old westerns that she once watched with her. grandfather. Christopher is a loving and protective husband, played by David Thewlis, seeking accountancy work in France, where the couple moved from their native Britain.

But viewers soon learn they’re hiding a deadly secret: The couple left England to prevent authorities from finding out they had buried Susan’s mother and father in the backyard of her parents’ house. 15 years ago, leaving the world to continue to believe the older couple were still alive.

The limited series declares from its first moments that the Edwards – an actual couple – were convicted of murder in 2014 and sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in prison. They also maintain their innocence.

Having exposed what is usually the central question in a true crime story – namely, did they get away with it? – Landscapers can devote themselves to their true goal: to represent the bizarre internal world of a couple who lie to each other and to the world in general, living inside a particular personal bubble that rationalizes their participation in a most macabre crime.

Stefania Rosini / HBO

Olivia Colman in HBO’s Landscapers.

A couple who keep secrets even from each other

Halfway through the first of HBO’s four installments, Thewlis’ Christopher Edwards explodes at Susan when she suggests that he will soon be called back from his last job interview. It turns out that his French is so bad, that he has no chance of getting hired and that he never really told her how badly the interviews were going.

This is matched in no time by Susan, who secretly racked up crushing credit card debt by seriously overpaying for movie memorabilia – forcing Christopher to call his mother-in-law for financial help, ultimately telling her everything. The mother-in-law reports him to the police, then tells him in an email what she did, much to the dismay of the investigators.

The first part of this story is something of a prank, showing the police awkwardly investigating the report and realizing, even after finding the bodies, that they don’t have enough evidence to force the Edwards back to England.

(One of my favorite scenes features a detective supervisor on the case angrily explaining the rules of evidence to his brightest investigator, pointing at another detective in frustration, saying, “He’s as thick as two planks. short, and he knows “why they can’t stop the couple in France).

But the Edwards are convinced they have a reasonable explanation for what happened – I’m not going to spoil the details here – so Christopher sends a polite email to the police asking for a train ticket to England, where they are quickly arrested.

Representing a fantasy world created by avoidance

Or Landscapers really excels at portraying the fantasy world that Susan escapes to during times of stress, when she portrays herself and Christopher as characters in the movies she loves. One minute, they’re looking at each other lovingly in a black and white romantic comedy; As their situation grows more dire, she imagines them as heroic outlaws in a western, shooting them with lawyers who bear a great resemblance to their investigators.

The staging here is inventive and cheeky. When police come up with an alternate theory of crime during questioning – they believe Christopher shot both parents – the episode turns into a distorting sequence in which the detective leads Christopher and Susan to a film set depicting the her mother and father’s bedroom, politely asking the an older couple to lie down in their bed so that Christopher can kill them.

Along with the inventive staging and directing, the real draw here is the performances of Thewlis and Colman, which bring unexpected depth to the playing of a couple described as cold-hearted killers for the most part. of their media coverage. In the hands of Thewlis, Christopher is benevolent and thrives on safeguarding Susan, whom he repeatedly calls “fragile.”

David Thewlis in HBO's Landscapers.

Stefania Rosini / HBO

David Thewlis in HBO’s Landscapers.

Colman puts her liquid, expressive eyes and emotional range to good use as Susan, who has her own dark allegations against her parents and ultimately comes to terms with what she did to cope.

Corn Landscapers Also reinforces the impact of her stars’ performances by avoiding or minimizing uncomfortable moments that could make it harder to empathize with the couple.

We don’t see them forging Christmas letters and cards to loved ones in an attempt to make it look like Susan’s parents were still alive and roaming the world. According to some press accounts, the couple sent forged documents to continue receiving their parents’ pensions and forged their signatures on their home’s sales papers, siphoning off hundreds of thousands of pounds to support themselves.

In the series, investigators show documents indicating that Susan took over her parents’ bank accounts within days of their death. But we never really see her doing it, although there are plenty of other events in the couple’s life portrayed in lengthy flashbacks.

The result is a miniseries that offers a wonderfully inventive take on a bizarre case, with top notch acting and staging. But its quality also encourages viewers to identify with a couple who may not deserve the empathy this show is likely to generate.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.


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