This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
Supernatural drama has an unfortunate history in the UK. Pricy visual effects and otherworldly locations make broadcasters nervous to commission it, and even more nervous to re-commission it. As a result, British supernatural shows have often been frustratingly short-lived.
The Fades, criminally, came and went. In The Flesh was cut short after just nine episodes. While Afterlife, Bedlam, and Hex made it to a grand total of two seasons, The Living And The Dead, Demons, Lightfields, and Him dissolved after just one. With the odd lucky exception—Being Human, Misfits, and Doctor Who—fans of UK supernatural drama have learned not to get too attached.
That trend could be set to change. Original Netflix drama The Innocents has the atmospheric, intimate feel of The Fades, but is backed by the comforting cushion of the international streaming giant’s cash. There are already eight episodes—making it something of a veteran in the genre—and the cost of its global marketing push alone may well rival the entire budget for some UK supernatural shows.
Strong genre ideas and the wherewithal to do them properly – Netflix, where have you been all our lives?
In The Innocents, writers Hania Elkington and Simon Duric, along with directors Farren Blackburn (no coincidence that The Innocents has a sense of The Fades about it. Both dramas share a director in Blackburn), Jamie Donoughue and a talented cast, have moulded complex psychological ideas and involving emotional stories around a supernatural premise. The result is exactly what we’ve been clamouring for: intelligent genre TV with something to say, well-resolved characters and a clear visual identity.
It’s fitting identity should come up, as it’s a key concept in The Innocents. Thematically, the series explores how we define who we are and how others see us. It asks questions about how we recognise ourselves as individuals and inside families, touches on some of-the-moment questions about gender identity, and examines threats to the self – illness, the influence of people who seek to manipulate us, and the influence of the people we love (not mutually exclusive categories, it’s no surprise to learn).
Love—beautiful and devastating—is The Innocents’ unifying theme. The teenage romance of sixteen-year-olds June McDaniel (Sorcha Groundsell) and Harry Polk (Percelle Ascott) is at the show’s centre. Its opening episodes carefully paint a world that’s recognizable but pleasingly disorienting, one whose bleakness might be suffocating were it not for the spilling-over joy of June and Harry’s feelings for each other.
The teenage runaways have been cannily cast. Groundsell (Clique) gives June vulnerability and flintiness, while Ascott (Wizards Vs Aliens) as Harry is the sort of character who melts your heart twice an episode. Together, they utterly sell the romance, and evoke the holding-a-grenade-with-the-pin-out-in-your-hand sense of power and adrenaline that means being sixteen and in love.
The supernatural premise elevates the stakes for this particular Romeo and Juliet. What begins as a down-to-earth story about two young people wanting to break free of their repressive families soon turns pleasingly… weird. (If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll know which kind of weird, but if you’re able to go in clean, do so.) By the episode one cliffhanger, at least some of its cards are on the table.
The Innocents rewards loyalty. The early pains it takes to set scenes and establish character, to drip-feed plot elements and pique curiosity all pay off by the finale. The second half of the series in particular ramps up towards a thrilling couple of closing episodes in which the show’s various threads knit convincingly together.
It also looks beautiful. June and Harry’s road trip invites a revolving variety of locations into the show, from their Yorkshire Dales home town to cheap hotels and hostels, barge boats, nightclubs and chic London flats.
The location that leaves the biggest impression though, is an island off the Norwegian coastal city of Bergen. Norway’s fjords and glaciers lend The Innocents the sophisticated escapism of Nordic noir. For all the teens’ UK-based running around, the story that unfolds on the island is the more compelling (for adult viewers, at least).
That’s in part down to the scenery and the way it’s framed, and in part down to the characters that live there, namely Guy Pearce as the mysterious Bendick Halvorson, and a group of similarly mysterious Scandinavians. Pearce’s is another strong performance among many. His role and what it adds to The Innocents‘ exploration of love and identity provides plenty to discuss, but not here and not now.
For now, make time for The Innocents, go with it, and give thanks that the story might finally be changing for British supernatural drama. Here’s to many more like it to come.
The Innocents launches on Netflix on August 24.