Posted on Aug 7, 2013


Sean Harris in Southcliffe

Sean Harris playing Stephen Morton in Channel 4’s Southcliffe.
Picture courtesy of

From the moment the 4-part drama Southcliffe was advertised on Channel 4, I knew that it would be controversial and shocking with its story of a mad gunman gone off on a rampage in his local community.

The opening scenes confirmed this when he was seen shooting an old lady as she was gardening and then other shots going off in the distance as he continued on his way.

What follows is the back-story into the decent of his madness and how he came to kill innocent people. I say innocent but in his eyes they are all guilty of something.

Echoes of Hungerford, Dunblane and Cumbria will no doubt be played out and made comparison with which is what the writers and producers will no doubt be hoping for I expect. The question is, are they right to make something that’s still so fresh in many people’s minds that could cause distress? Should we be concerned that some madman out there may pick up a gun and run amok? (At the time of writing this, a man in Lanarkshire, Scotland killed two people and injured one with a shotgun but as yet there is no connection with the show or as to why he did it?)

Here in the UK we are lucky that our gun laws are amongst the tightest in the world and that our police don’t really need guns; but it is recognised that they still need to be tighter for no civilian should ever need to own a gun for any reason really. It should only be for those in the armed forces and those that are paid to protect us. Sportsman I also recognise as well as long as the weapons are kept away at a club and not at their homes and they’re never allowed to remove them from the club and monitored at all times.

Southcliffe focuses on all the residents of the fictional small coastal town and asks why them? Why were they chosen? Were they random or where they picked out for a reason? Or were they simply just in the way?

Eddie Marsan and Shirley Henderson in Southcliffe

Eddie Marsan and Shirley Henderson playing Andrew and Claire Salter in Southcliffe
Picture courtesy of

All the victims and their families have back-stories of their own. One has been having an affair, another is a returned soldier who seems to be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a few others who all have links with the main protagonist and killer, Stephen Morton, played by the brilliant Sean Harris.

He is nicknamed the Commander for he lives in a fantasy world where he tells everyone he served with the SAS and briefly one returned soldier believes him and goes training with him until he learns the truth and finds someone who really did serve in the SAS. They subsequently beat him up.

Each episode switches from past to present and some may get confused by where the storyline is or what’s happening but it’s quite simple if you concentrate. There tends to be a trend for quiet, mumbled speech above a loud soundtrack of late and Southcliffe is no exception but for me it just adds to the tension, especially with Sean Harris’ character, Stephen Morton. It gives him a creepy and disturbed aura.

Also with each episode, the start, middle and end all have very brief and shocking moments of gunshots in the distance or in the mist with a shadowy figure or Morton clearly seen with gun in hand. But what I find interesting about his character is the fact that you almost feel sorry for him. He lives with his Mum who suffers from Dementia or Alzheimer’s and he refuses to put her in a home or let anyone take care of her because he simply loves her. Then the flashback’s show him being bullied by many in his town as a kid and even as an adult. A carer; Claire Salter played by the fantastic Shirley Henderson (Moaning Myrtle from Harry Potter) visits his home to help with his Mum and tries everything to help him but she too is very worried about him and where his mind is at. She knows he cares and subsequent calls to her office from him disturb her. It’s not until later that she regrets not calling him back. At least that’s the impression I got. Eddie Marsan as her husband is brilliant and is worth the license fee alone in anything he does. I still want him to be Doctor Who someday. Maybe he can be the 13th incarnation?

There are many moments like this with many regrets and strands all leading back to the treatment of Morton and how he sees things.

Whatever his reasons though there can be no excuse for his actions but again, this leads on to the way we treat our own people, our neighbours, our friends, our families and even strangers. We live in an ever-growing world with constant stress and pressure on a lot of us with many having no purpose in life they believe, just a ghost of an existence so is it any wonder that some of us snap? Whose fault is it really? Them for not being in control of their own lives or us for pushing their buttons and not looking out or being there for our fellow human beings?

It’s a huge question and one that will be debatable for decades, centuries even for humankind can be selfish and fearful.

There was a one-off drama some years back called Boy-A which focused on the killing of a small child by teenagers based on the Jamie Bulgar killing. It was seen through the eyes of one of the killers and how he tried to redeem himself and even though you knew what he had done, you were rooting for him to be at peace and do the right thing. Find it online and watch it.

There are two episodes to go of Southcliffe to be held over the next two Sundays and I have a funny feeling it will get only more shocking and stronger. I’ll update this post to include those two episodes when it is finished. Until then may I suggest that if you haven’t seen it then please do. It is one of the strongest and most shocking dramas you will see simply because it is so close to past crimes. It is very powerful and the acting, camera-work, writing and directing are all first class and you will be awed at what you see. The quiet moments will stun you as the shots ring out, leaving you unnerved and slightly numb.

It simply is a stunning piece of work and I hope it does good and not harm in any way, highlighting the need for a total ban on all guns and a total crackdown on the criminal underworld who own them as well. I also hope that it somehow helps the victims of this sort of crime in some way and highlights the need for this never to happen again.


So Southcliffe ended last night on what was a strange and unusual ending that couldn’t have been otherwise I suppose.

What started off as a man pushed to the edge and a community falling apart, trying to come to terms with what had been done to them, soon focused on the journalist, David Whitehead and former resident of Southcliffe, the ex-soldier, Chris Cooper who had an association and very brief friendship with Stephen Norton and the Salter’s who were torn apart by the death of their child by Norton.
It was about them all trying to get there lives back on track and right wrongs too if they could.

David Whitehead played by the excellent Rory Kinnear felt responsible for Norton’s decent and blamed the whole town for his actions too and what followed was Whitehead receiving a message a year after the events that threatened to start the whole thing off again. It stated that Norton was still alive and would return to finish what he started but another story unfolded showing heartbreak so raw that you felt the tension and nerves of the characters involved. You momentarily forgot that you were watching actors playing a part and being directed in a drama. That’s how high the calibre of the show was and I can still feel it almost twenty-four hours after it finished.

I’m trying not to give too much away so you can watch it for yourselves but what I will say is that the ending is strange to say the least. You are left with questions and no answers, yet you can forgive the writers for leaving it this way because it is how you would expect real life to be under the circumstances.

I can only repeat what I have said before and that’s watch it and judge for yourself.

I defiantly smell awards for it. Well done to all involved in such a brilliant piece of well handled drama.