River: A British Mystery Series with Nicola Walker

Stellan Skarsgård and Nicola Walker in River

River originated on BBC One. Immediately after the last episode aired in Britain, it was imported to America on Netflix as a Netflix Original. It stars Stellan Skarsgård as John River, a cop trying to solve the murder of his former partner Stevie Stevenson. Nicola Walker plays the dead partner and appears to River frequently as he tries to understand the who and why in her case.

The series was beautifully written by Abi Morgan. Minor spoilers ahead.

NIcola Walker in River
River frequently talks with Stevie while in his car. She goads him on constantly.

Stevie isn’t the only person who appears to River. He frequently sees dead people. Many of his best clues and leads come from these otherworldly conversations. On the other hand, one of his darkest demons is a dead serial killer played with delicious torment by Eddie Marsan.

His new partner Ira King (Adeel Akhtar) tries to cover for River’s strange behavior as best he can and gradually learns to respect River’s brilliance as an investigator. He even comes to understand and respect River’s madness.

Nicola Walker, Stellan Skarsgård and Georgina Rich in River
Nicola Walker, Stellan Skarsgård and Georgina Rich in River. Rich plays River’s shrink Rosa.

River is forced to attend sessions with the police shrink, Rosa Fallows (Georgina Rich). After silent and aborted sessions, he decides to trust her. She then begins the painful work of trying to draw him out.

Lesley Manville plays River’s immediate superior Chrissie Read. River has a long and significant history with Chrissie and her family.

Stellan Skarsgård in River
River is a depressed, unbalanced man with numerous personal demons. The mood is enhanced by the blue tone you see in this image.

The series is dark and moody. Each episode reveals new secrets about River and about Stevie. Learning the truth about her upsets River almost as much as her murder. Twists and surprises enter into every episode as River pieces his case together and the web of people involved grows.

Skarsgård’s performance as the dark and troubled cop is absolute perfection. His stillness, his visions, his fake good nature when he pretends to be normal, his fears and his memories play brilliantly.

She’s not the real Stevie; she’s River’s Stevie.Nicola Walker, too, is fantastic as the slowly revealed Stevie. It’s interesting that she’s playing Stevie as manifested by River. She’s not the real Stevie; she’s River’s Stevie. She’s the light to his dark. She’s the song, the laugh, the reminder to behave like a normal person, to love like a normal person. Walker’s expressive face and her penetrating blue eyes are both used to excellent effect here.

River’s realization that Stevie had a secret purpose is masterfully uncovered. He won’t stop until he unravels the mystery of Stevie’s death. Even when he sees the lives of the people unraveling around him, people he cares about – people Stevie cared about, he keeps looking for the truth.

When River finally faces his truth about Stevie and his grief over losing her we see a beautiful and joyful scene. Not the mournful sobbing of a broken man, but a celebration of wonder and love. It was a lovely finale.

I appreciated the surprises as each episode twists and turns through more and more of the story. I appreciated the parallels between River’s life and Stevie’s life. Part of the storyline deals with immigration. We are living through a world-wise crisis over immigrants and refugees right now, making the plot highly relevant.

If you are a fan of noir mysteries with devilish plot twists I think you’ll enjoy the 6 episodes of River.

Watch the trailer for River.

9 thoughts on “River: A British Mystery Series with Nicola Walker”

  1. Nice review. River iwas my absolute favorite series of the year. And it supplied me with a new song–I love my baby ( my baby loves to dance). So great! Don’t think it made it over here to the US, but it should have.

  2. I loved the show, but I found the ending difficult. I was very impressed with Stellan Skarsgard and Nicola Walker was fantastic, it was really nice to see her after Last Tango In Halifax.

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