It’s been two years in the making, but the wait is finally over for fans of The Fall, as the gripping psychological thriller returns for a third - and reportedly final - series. SUSAN GRIFFIN finds out what’s in store
Creator Allan Cubitt, who also wrote Prime Suspect 2 and The Hanging Gale, originally pitched for The Fall to be 12 parts, but was told by the BBC he could have five episodes. “I said, ‘I can’t do it in five’, but they told me I didn’t have to finish it,” the screenwriter, who also directs the series, recalls with a laugh. “I couldn’t be sure there would be a second series, but we were recommissioned after about three weeks.”
As for the third run, he adds: “I had a very strong idea of where it would end, but by then it was - by its very nature - a medical drama, so I had to get my head around directing a medical drama for the first time, which was a real challenge but exciting to do.”
The Fall, which depicts the deadly game of cat and mouse between serial murderer Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) and DSI Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), has never shied from graphic scenes - but viewers of a queasy disposition might want a cushion at the ready for the opening episode. It’s set almost entirely in a hospital following Spector’s shooting at the end of series two, after taking police to the woodlands where he’d left his last victim.
While Cubitt had to familiarise himself with the intricate vernacular of an A&E team, he adds: “From the beginning of series one, there was a notion that there were people dedicated to saving lives of other people, in context with someone who was dedicated to taking lives.” He references early scenes with Spector’s wife, Sally Ann, a neonatal nurse. “I wanted people to recognise that we all have a very strong will to live. I was also trying to portray the enormity of what Paul Spector does.”
While Dornan admits “it’s hard to find any redeemable qualities” in Spector, he feels there are aspects that are “commendable”.
“There are very few, but he shows traces of being a good father at times,” notes the Northern Irish actor, 34. “In the first season, I think he shows something close to love, particularly in relation to his daughter. I do think he approached his profession as a bereavement counsellor with professionalism. That’s the genius of Allan’s writing, that this is someone who’s very adept at taking life and also relatively adept at helping people who’ve lost someone.”
Dornan, who also plays Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades franchise, has no interest in portraying Spector simply as monster. “I think one of the reasons Spector’s compelling is that there are relatable aspects to him,” he argues. “There’s got to be an aspect that human beings can identify with, to an extent, and I always felt that when I’m playing those moments with the children - I’m playing them as a father and nothing else. There is no undercurrent of menace or psychopath.”
He’s not one for remaining in character when the cameras stop rolling for the day. “Over four-and-a-half years, I have ways of locking myself into his psyche quickly, without too much build-up for the most part,” he notes.
Anderson’s enigmatic and alluring performance as DSI Gibson has garnered many fans, not least for her character’s penchant for silk blouses. “Even when we’re doing the wardrobe fitting in Selfridges, those clothes get pulled off the rack, I put them on and I’m Stella,” says the 48-year-old, who believes her on-screen alter ego has “lots of flaws”, despite the confidence she exudes.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily a good decision to have slept with Tom Anderson [a detective sergeant played by Colin Morgan],” states the Chicago-born actress of her character’s choices. “I think she’s made some strange, morally ambiguous decisions as a police officer, and there may be repercussions.” That said, Anderson adds: “She’s so comfortable with who she is as a woman, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone quite like her. I wish I was like her.”
Despite his success as Spector, including a Bafta nomination in 2014, Dornan originally read for the role of DS James Olsen, who Gibson propositions in series one. Cubitt explains he didn’t think Dornan was “right” for that part, but adds: “When I looked at him on tape, I thought he had something extraordinary on camera, and was pretty convinced straight away that we’d found our Spector. I knew it had to be someone who the camera really liked, who had an emotional depth and intelligence in their eyes.”
He recalls the “debate” over Dornan’s casting because, at the time, “he hadn’t done a massive amount”. Cubitt was adamant, however: “I got very vociferous about it, essentially, and said if it’s not Jamie then we don’t have a show.”
The Fall may have a legion of fans desperate to see how the action plays out, but the series is not without its detractors, with one Daily Mail article describing it as “an extended rape fantasy”.
“I was very upset by the implications, because whose fantasy would it be but mine?” admits Cubitt. “It’s adopted a particular criticism of patriarchy and the way in which male violence against women sits within the patriarchy. Gibson has discoursed about that endlessly from a feminist perspective, to the point that it doesn’t seem to matter what she says, set against what Spector does,” he adds. “Surely the issue is that Spector is a misogynistic character - although he says himself in season two: ‘I don’t hate women, I hate everybody, myself included’. And that’s perhaps closest to the truth of Spector.”
At the very end of series two, when Spector and Gibson’s colleague Tom were both laying injured after being shot, it was Spector that Gibson ran to - but Anderson doesn’t believe Stella has an unhealthy fascination with the serial killer. “She’s fascinated, she’s obsessed by him and bringing him to justice, and the idea that he would get away with it or get off easily by simply dying is a difficult thing for her to grasp,” explains the actress. “And that’s a possibility that’s playing out in front of her. She has to save his life. The family hasn’t had closure.”
As the third series culminates, there’s a suggestion that there’ll be a case for redemption. “I’m not going to say which characters are redeemed and which aren’t, but there’s always been this sense that Gibson, particularly, is fighting to protect and to redeem characters where she can, and that becomes imperative for her as the third season unfolds,” says Cubitt.
“You see them fighting for themselves in the face of the horror that someone like Spector reaps, his wife and children and victims and co-victims... I’ve always wanted the ramifications of Spector’s acts to radiate out.”
l Series three of The Fall begins on BBC Two on Thursday, September 29.
l Catch up on series one and two at BBC Store (www.store.bbc.com).