Southcliffe is Slow

Is it really?

The new four-part drama on Channel 4 received substantial attention before the first episode went on air. This was not only due to the rather sensitive issues of trauma, loss and grief. It initially caught my attention because it had been described as “slow”. This was the case at least for the first episode, and I thought that the whole series was supposed to use a pace different to the one we’re used to see on television.

True, Southcliffe starts off slow. The takes are fairly long, the pans are slow. So are the zooms. It is set in a small village far off civilisation as it seemed to me. There were also quite a few scenes that began and ended with temps mort. Some of the shots reminded me strongly of slow films. Those shots taken from inside a car driving through the countryside, for example, can only evoke memories of Ben Rivers’ Two Years At Sea.

The first episode builds up towards the fatal shooting rampage in Southcliffe. The slow pace is therefore suitable because it supports the tension slowly creeping up on you. It creates an eerie feeling. It is idyllic and quiet. At the same time, however, it is creepy because you know that this idyllic landscape will be home to a shooting rampage. So, yes. The first episode got me. The takes could have been a tick longer, though, but this is personal preference, I suppose.

The big BUT happens in episode two. The series doesn’t stick to its pace, even though I think that if you really wanted to explore this topic properly, you needed slowness. The takes are shorter, and there is less in-depth exploration of the actual situation the characters are in. The jump between episode two and three was too big (too fast?), and I read that episode four will be set a year after the shooting. Now, if this is not a fast treatment of trauma…

What I’m trying to say is that it looked slow at the beginning, but the overall pace across the four episodes doesn’t match the pace required to create a powerful insight into what I think they wanted to explore: the harrowing aftermath of a shooting rampage.

For this to be a success you would need to spend more time with the characters. True, I did argue in my other blog that it may appear like standing on a motorway during rush hour after you’ve been hit by a traumatising event. However, this is not about showing the motorway. It is about a character study, which can only be done slowly.

TV producers can learn a lot from Slow Cinema in this respect. The time spent on character studies is exactly what always makes it seem so “boring”. But once you have spent six hours with a character in a slow film and feel as if you yourself have been through six hours of tormenting thoughts and violence, then you will spot the remarkable difference it makes if mental issues are not explored slowly and when you’re suddenly asked to jump one year ahead in the narrative from one episode to the next.

This is not to say that Southcliffe isn’t a good series. It’s one of the few TV dramas I would perhaps recommend. And I hate TV, so that’s something. I only wished they would have done it a bit slower.

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