Broadchurch star David Tennant plays the cheating husband and father of a family killed in a suspicious fire.
The four-part series is nothing like Broadchurch, other than that it features a terrible crime in a small community, a number of possible suspects and an overwhelming sense of dread.
Tennant plays GP Tom Kendrick, husband of Kate (Anna Madeley) and father of their three girls. They live in the remote Scottish village of Kirkdarroch and are close to their neighbours, Steve (Matthew McNulty) and Jess (The Good Fight’s Cush Jumbo).
Then, the unthinkable. Tom is the only survivor of a house fire that kills Kate and the girls. It’s horrific. The grief is unimaginable. And then the questions begin. Suspicion falls on Kate, who had been depressed since her last baby, then it turns to Tom, who has been having an affair with Jess, who has been struggling with IVF …
Writer Daisy Coulam, who also created the 50s-era crime series Grantchester, says one of the main themes of the series is “the relentless perfectionism we all struggle with in our lives”.
“Many of us believe we have to live this Instagram-ready life. The reality is that nobody’s life is that perfect.”
Coulam says she is drawn to true-crime documentaries, but that they usually give a sense of the perpetrators, not the victims.
“I wanted to understand why some of these crimes happen and to address the importance of the victim as the real person they are.”
In that respect, there are some similarities between Grantchester, that sleepy series based on the books by James Runcie about a sleuthing vicar, and Deadwater Fell.
“I’m interested in crime not just as a shocking act, but as a psychological study. So, in Grantchester and in Deadwater Fell, we’re looking behind the tragedies to the truth, what causes these events.”
Tennant is, naturally, the MVP of the show. For the guy who was once a lively Doctor Who and a sad-sack cop, he can also be menacing and enigmatic.
“The moment we got him, it was clear it was always David Tennant’s role. He brings so much to the part and the series as a whole,” says Coulam. The village of Dunlop in Ayrshire, which stands in for the fictional Kirkdarroch, is also a character. “It’s stunning, but there’s something symbolic about it. The idyllic look of it hides something more sinister.”
This article was first published in the February 29, 2020 issue of the New Zealand Listener.