Why I love Stellan Skarsgård

Stellen Skarsgard as the careworn cop River

Stellen Skarsgard as the careworn cop River

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This week, to accompany the ever-increasing sugar fest that is Halloween, there have been various reminiscences about how we didn’t have pumpkins in our day, we had to make do with carving out turnips and other root vegetables.

So it seems appropriate that I have been catching up with the new BBC cop drama River (BBC1, Tuesdays, 9pm), starring Stellan Skarsgård as a hollowed-out Swede.
He plays John River, a police detective whose partner has been killed in a drive-by shooting.
So far, so ho-hum, but River has a quirk – he sees dead people. Not ghosts, he insists, but manifests, projections of the dead, or soon to be dead.
These manifests include his partner, Stevie (Nicola Walker) who taunts him, and haunts him. Unfortunately, to everyone around him, River seems to be talking to himself, which rings alarm bells and sees him sent to the Met Police shrink.
It might be all a bit mediocre, this maverick cop with a personality defect and a chequered past. But, thanks to Skarsgård and Walker, it’s lifted way above the sum of its parts. Skarsgård is mesmerising, his watery eyes conveying the pain of grief, loss, betrayal.
One moment, when he was sat on a sofa talking to this apparition of Stevie, before abruptly realising that she’s gone, was heartbreaking.
The supporting cast is one of the best assembled – Lesley Manville, Michael Maloney, Owen Teale, Adeel Akhtar, Sorcha Cusack and Eddie Marsan – and they add a real emotional background to the story, all with their own tales to tell.
It’s more than a run-of-the-Bill cop show, it’s the best thing on TV at the moment.
Seeing dead people is apt for Halloween, but barely a week after all that tricking and treating, and John Lewis is dominating the headlines as the Harrods of the middle classes launches its multi-million pound snow-encrusted Christmas ad.
Treated as a news story, hailed as the start of the festive season, a ‘new Christmas tradition’. Give me a break. Preferably one without a John Lewis ad.