With the 4-part drama series coming to Sky Atlantic and Now on 7th December, read an interview with series creator Ed Sinclair (who also happens to be Mr Olivia Colman) ...
Landscapers tells a unique love story involving a seemingly ordinary couple who become the focus of an extraordinary investigation when a couple of dead bodies are discovered in the back garden of a house in Nottingham.
Mild-mannered husband and wife Susan (Olivia Colman) and Christopher Edwards (David Thewlis) have been on the run from reality for over 15 years. When Christopher makes a startling call home to his step-mother, their role in a terrible crime that remained undiscovered for over a decade begins to emerge into the light. As their relationship is subjected to the glare of a full police investigation, the devoted couple are separated for the first time in their marriage.
As the investigation moves forward, inspired by Susan’s obsession with old Westerns and classic cinema the fantasists cast themselves as Hollywood heroes in narratives of their own invention. Powered by Susan’s extraordinary imagination, Susan and Chris’s fantasy world provides a much needed sanctuary from real-world horrors and their own clawing guilt, but also threatens to undo them completely.
Will Sharpe directs the exploration of love and fantasy, which is created and written by screenwriter Ed Sinclair. Additional cast includes Kate O’ Flynn, Dipo Ola, Samuel Anderson, David Hayman, Felicity Montagu and Daniel Rigby.
Where did you get the idea for Landscapers from?
I read about it in the paper. It wasn’t a news report of the Edwards’ case, it was a summary and a little bit of analysis. Having read that, I read around the story. A lot of the focus was on the ‘‘wilder’ aspects of the case: the Hollywood memorabilia, obviously the fact that no one had noticed for 15 years, the Gerard Depardieu thing. But I didn’t really know what my angle was. Yet it was almost like an aside in all these pieces, the fact that Susan Edwards had been sexually abused as a child. It was only when I picked up on that reference that I thought, ‘Well maybe that’s it. That’s probably the whole story’ - in a way that none of the journalists seemed to be too bothered about.
That’s how it lodged in my head. I let it percolate for a little bit and then I looked up who Susan’s barrister was and emailed him in chambers. He wrote back almost immediately and said, ‘Funny you should email at this point because Susan’s appealing against sentence next week. Why don’t you come and watch that, and then we’ll have lunch afterwards?’ So that’s what I did. Her appeal against sentence was rejected on the basis that her sexual abuse was as a child and the crime was when she was a 40-year-old woman - and she was expected to have somehow recovered from that. That really got my anger churning and spurred me on. I was introduced to Susan’s solicitor Darrell Ennis-Gayle and my relationship with him is the central one that got me from there to here. He’s just a totally brilliant man, incredibly empathetic and he’s played by Dipo [Ola] in the drama. He was my access to the whole story. He introduced me to Susan, cleared the way for me to start writing to her. And then off the back of that I started writing to Chris, gradually pulling the threads of the story together. That’s how it all started.
How close does your story cleave to reality?
That’s the critical point. There comes a time when you have to leave the real-life stuff behind and be sure that it works as a piece of entertainment and a story. Obviously, you have a responsibility to true life events but there has to be a clear understanding that you’re telling a story.
It was my first effort at writing a screenplay. So I guess there was a slight unease actually about the true story element of it – these were people who I had little doubt in my mind were actually murderers, even though they claimed their innocence.
What tone were you aiming for?
One of the very first letters I wrote to Susan said this is a phenomenal and extraordinary story. I wanted it to have a slight Walter Mitty-ish or Amelie feel to it. The challenge then was that given there were inevitably going to be true crime elements – and those were of course very serious – we had to make sure that those elements didn’t unbalance the agenda we had when we started - which was to tell something much more personal, much more freewheeling in terms of perspectives and what the truth meant. That was probably the single biggest challenge: to make the more impressionistic, flights of fancy-type stuff work. We had to have a procedural framework to let the audience know where they are and chart the progression of the story. But we didn’t want that to dominate.
What is your take on Christopher and Susan Edwards as people? They come across as empathetic. Yet they are convicted murderers.
They are indeed convicted murderers, and I have no reason to think they didn’t commit those crimes. But what tends to happen when someone is convicted of a serious crime is that the public view of that person crystallises around their conviction – they are defined by their crime. In the same way, Susan and Chris became ‘cold-hearted killers’. But of course life is not so black and white. We will never know exactly what happened that weekend. But even if they killed Susan’s parents for money, they killed those particular people for money. And the reason those people were killed was because of the whole story and the history and all the rest of it. The evidence suggests the Wycherleys were not very nice people. Of course, I wouldn’t ever condone murder but I wouldn’t condone sexual abuse either. I think probably knowing Darrell [Susan Edwards’ solicitor], meeting Darrell first of all, and hearing him talk about Susan, helped in me being comfortable telling a sympathetic story - because Darrell is just a thoroughly decent man. The point is that in certain circumstances, who knows what any of us would be capable of doing? Who can really escape who they are, the things that have made them who they are? Outside the crimes that the Edwards committed I don’t think either of them would kill anyone else. But when it came to Susan’s parents, who had done this terrible thing to her… So that’s where we are sympathetic: because of the sexual abuse side of things it is our duty to ask difficult questions about where our compassion and our empathy should lie. If raising those questions means leaning into a sympathetic take on those characters then so be it.
But I want to make clear that my intention was not to make people think that Susan and Christopher Edwards shouldn’t be in prison. If indeed they did it, which is almost 100% likely, that’s abhorrent and of course totally acceptable. It’s very hard to go into that place, that weekend, and work out how these people who in most other respects were – not normal people necessarily but nice enough people… it’s very hard to make that connection with where you go. But I think that’s true of most people – in extremis, who knows what we would do given the cards that we’re dealt?
What was it like writing for your partner – who happens to be an Oscar winning actress?
We have been slightly finding our way because this is the first time that it’s happened. It hasn’t really felt like we’re working together really that much, because I and everyone else on the production wanted it to follow the normal path, the normal rigour, where the actor only sees the script when its ready. And that’s not ultimately the writer’s decision. So it’s not like we were collaborating, or I was constantly checking her reaction to my ideas. But I am of course Olivia's biggest fan. I’ve watched her every single moment of her career and I’m very aware of what she can do. The reason I was looking for Olivia Colman projects – this was about five or six years ago – was the sense of burning injustice that more people hadn’t seen Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur. Paddy created something astonishing with that film, and everyone involved in it deserved more than they got. Of course a lot has changed since then but I just wanted more people to see Olivia doing more of what she can do.
To what extent is this a love story?
I think it’s a love story above all else. As Will Sharpe says – it’s a love story and you get the true crime stuff for free. The love story is about giving us access to our sympathy and our ability to ask ourselves those questions about where our sympathies lie. It’s also about the stories we tell ourselves and those we love – the stories that help us get through those things that are not easy to understand or process. And there’s that uncertainty about that grey area – that they have killed people, but also that Susan was sexually abused and all the rest of it. And I think the love story really underpins that because Chris is the one who all along, before we knew about the story, before we knew anything, was sympathetic to Susan. He chose to be compassionate about what she had been through – in a sense, when he married Susan, he rescued her from her parents. Does his love for her also explain why he went as far as killing for her? Did it lead them to a position where that act became inevitable? We don’t want to answer that question, but we want to ask it.
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