Landscapers is available from 7th December 2021 on Sky and Now TV with the following interview provided by Sky.
How did you join the production?
I was sent Ed [Sinclair]’s original scripts by SISTER and remember immediately liking his tender, empathetic take on the story of this crime and how he seemed keen to experiment with form. We started talking, I explained my take on it and one of the first things we discussed was this idea of truth and the different versions of the truth that exist within the show: telling the same story from different perspectives and trying to find the nuances of how and why the murders really came about.
Thankfully we were on exactly the same page, they seemed to like my ideas and I was really excited to come on board. Like all projects that you end up taking on, it was just something that I couldn’t stop thinking about. It was a fascinating, peculiar story and I couldn’t get it out of my head.
Landscapers is very different to some ‘true crime’ dramas. What tone were you aiming for in the piece?
As I started writing and developing the scripts with Ed, it was clear that we both saw this principally as a love story between Susan and Chris – a strange one, but a love story nonetheless. Yes, we were inviting the audience to enjoy the thrilling aspects of the mystery, but we were keen to lean on the human aspect more than the nitty gritty of the crime. I’ve always thought of Landscapers as a kind of romantic psychodrama and the procedural stuff is all for free.
We also both wanted this show to be funny, as well as to deliver its emotional punches, to find ways to balance humour with the darker aspects. A lot of this came from the peculiarities in the relationship between Susan and Chris, but we also found ways to mine comedy from the supporting characters in the police and to have fun with the procedural as well.
In the original scripts, Ed had made extensive use of flashbacks, even fantasies and there were passages from the police interviews where Susan and Chris’ stories were written to be dramatised in a strange space that he called “The Mith”. I found all of those formal challenges really exciting and it was part of what drew me to the project, but there were many ingredients to balance and so part of the initial process on the scripts was about streamlining and working together to bring the audience with us and to make best use of these ideas in service of the story and our main characters.
Then, as we progressed, I tried to find ways to evolve these ideas and, together with our brilliant team of HODs, went through the usual process of trying to understand the world from the point of view of these characters and to find a language for the show. Again we talked very early on about perspective and differing versions of the truth and how seeing, for example, Susan on a grubby CCTV feed would give us a very different feeling to seeing her as a romanticised Hollywood icon.
There are various different visual styles at play in Landscapers. How did you set about building the world of the show?
I really wanted these different realms, or “landscapes” if you like, to feel different and to serve their own purpose, but to sit within the same cohesive world of Landscapers. Susan’s fascination with classic Hollywood films and Old Westerns was a driving influence, as was the inherent macabre nature of the murders. There’s a tension at the heart of this show between these different truths – between Susan’s fantasy version of the world, and her relationship with Chris, and the messier, darker, more complex reality. So we started trying to find ways of weaving these styles together and of moving fluidly from moment to moment to try to give an organic, psychological feeling and help get the audience under Susan’s skin.
We settled on black and white for certain scenes and memories. We tried to lean on that cinematic, sweeping feeling of Chris and Susan first getting together and wanted to convey a sense of how they see each other, how they are the romantic leads of their own love story in a way. Erik Wilson, our DP, also found ways of shooting Chris and Susan in a highly romanticised, front lit way that harked back to the iconic close-ups of classic Hollywood and some of the key motifs and instrumentation in Arthur [Sharpe]’s score are similarly infused with those influences. At other times we used extremely long lenses to shut out the rest of the world and to share in the way that Susan and Chris exist entirely in their own fantasy bubble and, in some ways, are quite isolated from the real world around them.
You also have the more foreboding and theatrical world of “The Mith”, the constructed reality of Susan and Chris’ rehearsed stories which they present to the police. Erik, Cristina [Casali], our designer, and I talked a lot about using the violence of certain colours to undermine the romance of the black and white and to give a sense of the inescapable guilt that hangs over the show. The bodies were buried in a back garden under some flowers, which in our show are green and red, so we started to think of red and green as emblematic of the murders. We also talked about using deep blacks and “voids” to represent the missing pieces of the story. We wanted to visualise that haunted sense of how, if you leave certain details of a story out, it makes you question the accuracy of the details that are there. It makes you wonder if there is more to know.
Along similar lines, we decided to embrace the idea of not disguising the fact that some of these sets are built sets – that they are not real. Our hope was that this would add to that suspicious feeling, almost like the whole reality of the show is vulnerable to being questioned or undermined. The hope was it would make it harder to know what to believe.
What themes underpin Landscapers?
We’ve talked about truth and love and murder but, as the scripts evolved and we headed into the shoot, I found myself thinking more and more about the idea of freedom. I really wanted to understand what it was about the iconography of these Hollywood heroes and the open plains of the Wild West that was so appealing to Susan, rather than just writing it off as a peculiarity. I started to think about Susan’s backstory and to wonder if maybe going through something as traumatic as what she went through as a child could make you feel like a certain amount of freedom was taken away from you. I wondered if perhaps she might have felt kind of trapped, long before she was even arrested for anything. Perhaps that was why watching these old Westerns and taking herself into that world was such a welcome escape. Perhaps it gave her a feeling of some kind of freedom, however fleeting.
How closely does the show follow the truth of what happened?
The facts of the story are as accurate as we can make them. Ed had a really close relationship with Susan’s solicitor. We researched the transcript of the trial and there are certain pieces of evidence that feel kind of undeniable. Sometimes of course we had to speculate or imagine how certain moments might have played out, but I think it’s about how those events are presented more than anything.
We set out to tell as respectful and nuanced a version of this story as we could – respectful to the perpetrators and the victims and indeed to the police as well. There’s a version of this story that is slightly reductive, where you present Susan and Christopher Edwards as two oddballs who spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on Old Western and Hollywood memorabilia and then got embroiled in a double murder – and invite the audience to do the maths.
Equally, there’s a version where you look at Susan’s very traumatic backstory and encourage the audience to over-empathise with the perpetrators and to forget, or overlook perhaps the reality of the crime. So we really wanted to try to understand and to convey the complexity, and humanity, of all these various relationships and events that led to the moment of the crime. We were trying to understand the truths that Susan and Chris were telling themselves and that they perhaps needed to tell each other to get by, as well as the very constructed, carefully rehearsed truths that they presented to the police.
And because this story is so inherently about different ways of looking at the truth, and because it’s about a real story which happened in the fairly recent past, it did feel important to be up front with the audience about how, ultimately, this too is just our version of the truth. It’s our fictionalised version of the story with fictionalised versions of the characters. We’re storytellers and we’re trying our best to be empathetic and accurate but, in the end, this is just a piece of television. We wanted to leave space for the audience to draw their own conclusions.
You’ve worked with Olivia Colman before on Flowers and The Electrical Life of Louis Wain. What was it like to work together again on Landscapers?
We did two series of Flowers together and I guess over the course of that time it felt like we developed a kind of trust. So maybe that means there is a bit of a shorthand now. I was already a fan of her work and I’ve always felt that she’s somebody who brings a deep humanity to every character that she plays. She’s a very instinctive actor, mentally nimble and incredibly agile in her emotions. She makes it look easy but she is so good at shifting from light to dark and back again, or sometimes even delivering both at the same time.
In Landscapers, she needed to go to some darker places than we had explored together before but there were plenty of laughs and I thought she and David had a really beautiful chemistry that makes the show all the more complicated and all the more compelling. As with all good collaborators, even when I feel like I know her quite well, she is still always able to surprise me and that makes her really exciting and rewarding to work with.
And what was it like to work with David?
Like Olivia, David was an extraordinarily gracious and generous presence on set. He was really conscientious in his preparations and always hungry to understand and to share in the vision for each scene. He carries all the ambiguities of Chris in such a wonderfully understated way: I remember on set feeling how one moment he could seem like the kindest, sweetest, most vulnerable character and then, in the next moment, he would come across like a cold-hearted villain. I felt very lucky to be working with David. He was a hugely collaborative spirit and I think he brings a brilliant inscrutability to Chris and always had a beautiful lightness of touch.