To make a detective show stand out these days there has to be something a little different about it. It needs to stands out from the huge crowd of ones that already have huge fan bases. River is one that not only has Stellan Skarsgård to catch people’s interest, but a decidedly macabre twist.
John River (Stellan Skarsgård) is a hardened Swedish detective working in London. Searching for the killer of his partner Stevie (Nicola Walker) he struggles to cope with her loss. The twist here though is she is still by his side, as a ‘manifest’ of her memory, seemingly like a ghost but only based on what he knew of her. As he continues with other cases too, the manifests from these cases continue to haunt him until he can put their souls at rest.
When you first see the dead around River, it is easy to think that they are simply ghosts, but this is too simplistic. What they are instead is a representation of the person who has died, or in some cases are still alive. Deemed crazy by his peers and others who know his strange ways, what he goes through may be a mental illness but it is also something that helps him solve the cases and keeps him focused.
What River gets with an actor like Stellan Skarsgård is an intense performance that pulls the focus of the show directly onto him. He is a man very easy to empathise with as we are dragged into his world and experience the people who haunt his life. While he does investigate other cases through the six episodes of River, his main focus is to solve the death of Stevie which is a story that would fit very well in a Nordic Noir style show. So it comes as no surprise that River is very much of the Noir style, though this would be more of a London Noir.
What we see in River is the darker side of London, the underbelly which has swallowed up Stevie and spat her out, and threatens to do the same to River. The fact that she haunts him constantly and adapts to what he discovers about her shows just how much he needs her in his life. The fact that she is no longer really there is both heart-breaking and ominous. When River doubts her memory, we doubt her too, and we see what is coming. River is a man who is very unstable and ready to crack, as we see when Thomas Cream appears.
Played by Eddie Marsan in his usual intense way, Cream is the personification of River’s demons, the dark side of the detective that pushes him to the edge. Whenever River is pushed to violence, Cream appears, sneering in an almost celebratory way as the Detective let’s anger take control. Through the excellent casting of people such as Nicola Walker, and Eddie Marsan, River is a show that truly shines when you finally get it, but the real star of course is Stellan Skarsgård.
Stellan Skarsgård has that presence that makes the character of River something special. Intense, but at the same time emotional we are on the ride with River whether we like it or not. Stellan Skarsgård engages the audience in the experience of the show and then doesn’t let you go. In this show he IS River, not just another character in a show, he is fleshed out and very real, even if this is a scary prospect.
River is a show that is perfect for fans of Nordic Noir, and for those who want to experience that different feel that the genre brings to a show like this. Stellan Skarsgård’s performance as with the cast as a whole makes River must-see television. Not just another police drama, this is a show that mustn’t be missed.
River is available on Blu-ray and DVD now.