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Landscapers: Olivia Colman, David Thewlis, and director Will Sharpe on their new darkly comic series

Olivia Colman in Landscapers
(Image credit: Sky/HBO)

Landscapers is based on the true events of a double murder and its cover-up, but it's not a traditional true crime story. "The show is so inherently about different versions of the truth, and how hard it is to pin down the truth," director Will Sharpe tells GamesRadar+. 

Olivia Colman and David Thewlis play Susan and Christopher Edwards, a married couple who were found guilty in 2014 of shooting Susan's elderly parents and burying them in their own back garden in Mansfield, England – a crime that took place in 1998 and was concealed for 15 years. 

"There’s something to do with trying to understand how on earth they managed to do this for so long," Thewlis, best known for his roles in the Harry Potter and Wonder Woman movies, says when asked what he found most interesting about his character. "For 15 years, they've managed to keep this a secret, and how stressful that must have been. We can't really explore that, we can't explore 15 years, but that's what lies underneath everything. By the time you're introduced to these two characters, you're meeting them at the end of these 15 years, and trying to live a relatively normal life."

Sharpe previously helmed the dark comedy Flowers — which also starred Colman and Loki's Sophia DiMartino — and the recently released The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Like Flowers, Landscapers has a darkly comic, off-beat tone – the series was written by Colman's real-life husband Ed Sinclair in his first screenplay. It's also the first time the couple has worked together since they met doing student theater at university.

David Thewlis and Olivia Colman in Landscapers

(Image credit: Sky/HBO)

"I just couldn't stop thinking about it. It really got under my skin," Sharpe says of Sinclair's script. "I found myself even waking up in the middle of the night thinking about scenes. I thought Ed's scripts were really tender, and I liked how empathetic they were and how I could tell that [he was] trying to present a complex and nuanced picture of this crime." 

The series contains a heady mix of homage and pastiche, with scenes referencing the classic Hollywood movies and Westerns that Susan is obsessed with and uses as a form of escapism. "Just from an acting point of view, I like the way Ed has let us do 10 different jobs in one," Colman says. "So we get to do the silver screen and the cowboy and everything, and there's the flights of fancy that they go on." 

It's Christopher and Susan's relationship that's the center of the show, though, and Colman thinks the pair are "perfect" for each other. "It seems he's willing to be her hero," she says, "and she is willing to be utterly devoted to someone, has searched for a really good male in her life rather than her experience as a child. All of the memorabilia she collected was, which I'd forgotten, but [Thewlis] pointed out the other day, they were all great fathers. And that was the point, Gary Cooper was famously a wonderful father, and that's what she craved. I think they genuinely adored each other."

Each episode flits between black and white scenes to moments garishly colored in nightmarish red, then back to normal again, as flashbacks and memories intersperse with the present day and fact and fiction clash. It’s a series that keeps you on your toes.

David Thewlis in Landscapers

(Image credit: Sky/HBO)

"Another visual motif is these deep blacks, where parts of the set or the world almost feel like they're missing, and that felt like speaking to this idea of truths and constructed truths," Sharpe explains. "Hopefully, it makes the audience feel a little bit unsettled and like, 'Well, if those details are missing, can I trust the details that are here on the screen?'"

Adapting true crime for an audience always comes with ethical concerns, which Sinclair acknowledges. "I knew I really wanted to tell it from Susan and Chris' point of view, and that's obviously an inherently sympathetic act, there's no way around that," the screenwriter says. However, it was important for him that the story didn't become moralistic.

"There were, of course, ethical concerns about not wanting to be seen to be doing down the horror of what they did," he continues. "What happens quite early on is that you become aware that your retelling of these events, all your exploration of their psychology, becomes a story in its own right, that is actually quite different to the real life story. I think audiences are naturally very good at understanding how stories work. So my hope is that they will take it in that spirit, as a story, as an exploration, as an asking you questions rather than a didactic pronouncement on where our loyalties should lie."

Sharpe adds: "I felt like the relationship between Susan and Chris is about the truths that they perhaps needed to tell themselves or to tell each other. There are questions about the truth of the story of the crime, and so related to that is us just being quite upfront with the audience about the fact that we're also just storytellers. We're trying as best we can to be fair and accurate and empathetic, but, at the end of the day, this is also just our version. We have no agency over the truth. It's a fictionalized, dramatized version of the story."

Landscapers is on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV from December 7. The first episode is available to watch now on HBO Max, with the rest of the series arriving weekly.

I’m an Entertainment Writer at GamesRadar+, covering everything film and TV-related across the Total Film and SFX sections – I help bring you all the latest news and the occasional feature, too. I’ve previously written for publications like HuffPost and i-D after getting my NCTJ Diploma in Multimedia Journalism.