As far as true crime stories go, the tale of Susan and Christopher Edwards collects the genre’s key elements like unsavoury souvenirs. From large-scale cover-ups to frantically fleeing the country, on the surface the murderous couple could be seen as the East Midlands’ answer to Bonnie and Clyde. It is no surprise that the murky details of the story are being explored in new Sky Atlantic/HBO drama Landscapers.
With Olivia Colman in the starring role, the four-part series sets out to explore how the Edwards landed themselves at the centre of a media storm in 2013 after the bodies of Susan’s parents, Patricia and William Wycherley, were found buried in the back garden of their Nottinghamshire home. Taking a highly stylised approach to the story, the series explores how the middle-aged couple were eventually convicted of killing the Wycherleys and sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in prison.
Although it sounds like a run-of-the-mill murder, Landscapers attempts to portray the nuances of the crime, unpacking the complexities that surrounded the fatal event. Set 15 years after the Wycherleys’ deaths, we begin by exploring Susan’s seemingly conventional life in France. Blissfully wandering around a French film shop, we watch as she indulges her love of movie memorabilia, purchasing a pricey vintage poster using multiple credit cards.
But we soon learn that Susan is close to bankruptcy and keeping her trinket obsession hidden from her husband, Christopher. Struggling to find employment due to his lack of linguistic skills, Christopher is concerned about the state of their finances but Susan’s wide-eyed optimism (or delusion) seems to be keeping the family afloat. Cooking jacket potato dinners in their rundown apartment, the couple find solace in their love for one another. That is, until they receive an email from the police regarding an alleged incident that took place in 1993.
Unnervingly polite in their response, the couple inform the officers that they are happy to assist in their investigation surrounding the whereabouts of Susan’s elderly parents. With no jurisdiction in France, the police are forced to play the long game, collecting evidence with no real way of interviewing their prime suspects. Crucial pieces of information soon begin to reveal themselves, including the suspicious sale of the Wycherleys’ home in Mansfield.
It’s here that one would assume that the Edwards would pack up and flee. However, in a strange turn of events, the pair decide to return to the UK in order to explain their version of events, with a plan to simply ‘tell the truth’. Is this earnest intent or is there an ulterior motive? Either way, Susan and Christopher prepare to wave goodbye to their secret life in France. They assume their story will be fairly easy to explain but when faced with the dark details of the crime, things become a lot more complicated.
The most surprising part of Landscapers has to be its filming style. Jumping in and out of softly lit, black-and-white sequences, the series takes the characters’ penchant for old Hollywood and runs with it. Peppering fantastical elements throughout the narrative, the elaborate set designs make the drama feel more like a National Theatre production than your average true crime thriller.
This dreamscape style fits perfectly with Susan’s childlike demeanour. She prefers to live in an alternate world where her past actions can’t hurt her or the person she loves. It’s this desire to bury her head in the sand that Colman captures so well, showing Susan crawling into bed to soothe herself with a film in the knowledge that her ‘normal life’ charade is on the brink of collapse. This detachment from reality makes the character feel darkly disconcerting, even as she fails to demonstrate any truly menacing behaviour.
Though the cuts to fantasy worlds can feel jarring at first, the heightened, falsified scenes are used to show the characters contextualising their own circumstances, perceiving themselves as criminal cowboys in an old-timey Western or an ill-fated couple in a Casablanca-style romance. There is levity, too, in a number of nods to lighter tropes, with the team of investigators providing some much-needed comic relief throughout Landscapers’ first hourlong episode.
In what can only be described as a parody of every primetime police series on television, the team of accent-heavy detectives bring levity to the story’s murkiest moments. Muddling through the case as a deadpan trio, the officers lean into cop stereotypes (including the presence of some serious moustaches). DC Emma Lancing is perhaps the most familiar, a comedic clone of Notts native Vicky McClure in Line of Duty.
For all its headier elements, Landscapers gives thought-provoking insight into a high-profile story. While the crime committed was a major travesty, the series seeks to give context to the actions of Susan and Christopher Edwards beyond what the media shared. Most importantly, this involves the events that caused Susan’s fraught relationship with her family, offering a more sympathetic take on the story than one might expect.
Colman’s famous smiley demeanour is on full display throughout the first episode but it’s through her portrayal of Susan’s quiet fear that she really makes the role her own. Supported by David Thewlis as Christopher, Susan’s knight in shining armour, Landscapers explores the complexities of the fatal crime and the Edwards’ commitment to innocence. Posing questions about intent, morality, vilification and more, Landscapers shakes up the true crime genre in an entirely new way.
Landscapers begins on Sky Atlantic and Now TV on 7th December
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