Review: Landscapers, a crime story is in there somewhere

David Thewlis and Olivia Colman in Landscapers

Landscapers takes a surreal look at a true crime and love story. It stretches a simple crime drama out into four episodes by adding fantasy, flashbacks, police work, and oddball re-enactments of the storytelling to the mix.

Landscapers had been on my watchlist for a while because Olivia Colman is the star. But I didn’t push play until the BAFTA TV nominations were announced. Landscapers received a bunch of nominations, but not Olivia Colman. That’s just wrong, wrong, wrong.

Susan Edwards (Olivia Colman) and her husband Christopher Edwards (David Thewlis) were convicted of killing her parents and burying them in the back garden of their home. They hid the deaths and continued collecting the parents’ pension money for 15 years before the crime was discovered.

The police learned about the bodies in the back garden when Christopher called his step-mother to ask for money and told her the story. She called the police.

Olivia Colman in Landscapers
Many of the flashbacks are in black and white, as are the fantasy moments when Susan imagines herself in an old western film.

The story is partly present day. This quiet, loving couple live in a ratty apartment in France. He struggles to protect his “fragile” wife and can’t find work. It’s partly fantasy, because Susan lives in a fantasy made of old westerns and heroic male saviors like Gary Cooper. It’s mentioned several times that she’s not of this world.

David Thewlis, Olivia Colman, Samuel Anderson, and Kate O'Flynn in Landscapers
The re-enactments are often saturated with color and contain fantasy elements

When they are arrested, DC Emma Lancing (Kate O’Flynn) and other officers dig out the story, which is told in flashbacks and re-enactments that break the fourth wall. These moments are full of humor as the real events mix and morph with the storytelling as re-enactment recorded by visible film crews. Then there are scenes where Susan imagines herself in a film with a heroic male rescuer. I can hardly find the way to describe it other than to repeat my original statement that it’s surreal. Fascinating, but surreal.

Douglas Hylton (Dipo Ola) is Susan’s defense lawyer, but Christopher chooses not to have one. It’s never clear if the two of them planned it that way or it was a sudden decision. In fact, it was never clear how much of their story was pre-planned or even real.

Olivia Colman and David Thewlis are both fantastic in this exploration of the strange relationship and personalities of these two characters. Will Sharpe directed this very unusual comedy/drama/love story/police procedural.

2 thoughts on “Review: Landscapers, a crime story is in there somewhere”

  1. The disorienting visual deviations from realism were both entertaining and absolutely appropriate for this story. I think. The two central characters have constructed a few alternative realities, one of which (the killings) they try harder to believe themselves, than they try to make the police believe it.

    Both characters, especially Olivia Colman’s Susan, seem certifiably delusional, too foggy to keep their story straight. They are not shrewd, and so their police interrogations are muddled and incriminating, as the otherwise absurd re-enactments show wonderfully. They lack the even cleverness of child explaining the missing cookies.

    For most of the film, Susan and her interrogator seem opposites: Susan has long lived in a tenuous fantasy world, and DC Lancing prefers to smash those fantasies to bits. She is a lancer indeed, in the violent military sense, rather than in the benign medical sense.

    Two wonderful moments, I thought, were Susan’s declaration from the dock that she has been broken, and the brief, flirtatious conversation between DC Lancing and her partner — those two are not parallels to the killers, but show the parallel complexities and uncertainties of couples.

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