The Fear, Channel 4 | TV reviews, news & interviews
The Fear, Channel 4
Violence, death and dementia in Richard Cottan's absorbing South Coast crime drama
It's routine to refer to violent thugs and vicious gangsters as "psychos", but the protagonist of Richard Cottan's four-part thriller faces genuine mental disintegration. Richie Beckett (Peter Mullan) is an abrasive Scottish crime boss who has built his own boardwalk family empire in Brighton, but now it's under threat from a merciless bunch of Albanian mobsters. Meanwhile, Richie's grip on his kingdom is being undermined by the onset of dementia.
Cottan has set up a cunning opposition of sympathies. Richie and his family, notably his pallid and somewhat impotent sons Matty and Cal, inspire contempt and revulsion, although at least Richie is prepared to make the hard decisions and back them to the potentially-fatal hilt. At the same time, it's hard not to feel some sympathy for a man on a terrifying and slippery slope to oblivion, even if hanging probably is too good for him.
After the first two episodes, we've been left nicely poised on the brink of multiple catastrophes. The Albanians, who have occupied a farm outside town and drive around mob-handed in battered Land Rovers like some kind of paramilitary death squad, are running a slave-girl-and-prostitution racket with a side order of drug smuggling. They made Richie an offer he couldn't accept. "You work with us or we destroy you," one of them uttered in a graveyard-like monotone.
Snag is, it looks like it was also an offer he can't remember. He has begun to suffer alarming blackouts in which he goes berserk and attacks people, then carries on calmly as if nothing has happened, since as far as he's concerned it hasn't. He kicked the shit out of a rather irritating unicyclist on Brighton seafront, and then made a mad-dog lunge at the aged patriarch of the Albanian crew, which led to Richie and sons having to make a panicky retreat, taking the old guy as a hostage. Unamused, the Albanians - who had already sent a message to the flaky Cal (Paul Nicholls, pictured above) by leaving a girl's severed head in his bed - rushed out and set fire to Richie's lovely white hotel (with desirable ocean view).
In truth, the level of violence and aggression is already a tiny bit on the hysterical side, and we've had a hint that the Old Bill might be wearily deciding that perhaps they ought to make some pretence of doing something about it. Richie has been out playing golf with a senior copper, his game only slightly marred by a flashback to his murky, murderous past as he tried to dig his ball out of a bunker, and received a blunt warning that a deal was a deal. The police expect Richie to keep a lid on any rival criminals, and if he doesn't he can expect their cosy non-aggression pact to come to an abrupt end.
Richie keeps insisting that he's in control, and Mullan has the in-built advantage of looking as if he knows exactly which point on the bridge of your nose he's about to head-butt, but by the end of episode two the legendary hard man was sobbing to his wife Jo (Anastasia Hille, pictured above with Mullan) to help him. The depiction of his decline is by far the strongest aspect of The Fear, and the way Richie is being torn between super-vivid and frightening images from his past as he struggles to cope with the crisis brewing in the present grips with unforgiving claws. The scene where he was conducting a delusional negotiation in two time frames simultaneously was handled with particular adroitness. The way his phone keeps ringing with strains of The Who's "Baba O'Riley" is a wry indicator of the way his glory days are far behind him.
I think we can assume it's all going to end badly. The question is whether Richie can salvage any shreds of his identity, never mind his villainous domain.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Does James Fox have anything interesting to say? Judging from this series, no
Watchable docu-soap provides plenty of cuddly pets to coo over
More first-person war testimonies from front line and home front
Fantastic mid-Seventies dystopian children's drama from the BBC
Adam Rutherford's exploration of Leonardo and the dark art of human dissection
Documentary shatters myths of female participation in the Great War effort
Peter Moffat eases off on the misery as the rural series enters the Twenties
How colonial troops were thrown into the blood and horror of the Western Front
Kay Mellor's new drama set in an ante-natal class suffers from too much incident
A plainly told tale of that other ill-fated hero of the Peasants' Revolt
Hybrid pan-European docu-drama on real-life WWI stories doesn't quite cohere
Andrew Graham-Dixon's series offers so much more than the title suggests