The blueprint for “Landscapers,” a four-part British miniseries airing on HBO, turns out to be considerably sturdier than the construction, somewhat wasting the dream pairing of Olivia Colman and David Thewlis. It’s still an interesting detour into bizarre true crime, but so stylized as to blunt the overall impact by being too cute for its own good.
The project is built around the strange case of Chris and Susan Edwards, who were convicted in 2014 of murdering her parents and burying their bodies in their garden. The story opens, a trifle confusingly, somewhere past the middle with the two on the lam, having fled to France, as they negotiate with investigators about a possible return to England as the police home in on what came to be known as the Mansfield murders.
Colman’s Susan has an airy, almost unreal quality, deferring to her husband Chris (Thewlis) and at one point saying, “He’s practical, because I’m not.”
What they share, as documented via the present frame and black-and-white flashbacks, is a love of old movies and American westerns in particular, with strong silent types like Gary Cooper emblazoned across the screen. (They also share a fondness for the French actor Gérard Depardieu, writing him fan letters.)
So far, so pretty good, but as laid out by writer Ed Sinclair and director Will Sharpe (“The Electrical Life of Louis Wain”), “Landscapers” indulges in too many flights of fancy, including elaborate reenactments of their testimony taking the audience both inside their not-entirely-convincing explanations as well as their heads.
As it turns out, the miniseries’ most effective element comes at the end of each episode, running news clips that reinforce how closely this odd love story adheres to reality, including the fact that Chris and Susan (who, it’s noted, continued to profess their innocence) did all they could to convince people her parents were still alive while spending their money acquiring Hollywood memorabilia.
“Unless one of you tells us, we’re never going to know exactly what happened,” the cops advise them, underscoring the confounding nature of the crime.
In addition to “The Crown,” Colman (an Oscar winner for “The Favourite”) is getting raves for her role in the upcoming Netflix movie “The Lost Daughter,” so HBO is probably happy to ride those coattails. By that measure “Landscapers” is watchable enough but errs in taking a case that required scant dramatic embellishment and then proceeding to do so anyway.
“Landscapers” premieres Dec. 6 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO, which, like CNN, is a unit of WarnerMedia.
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