WHAT’S ON: Olivia Colman on Landscapers ‘Some people are genuinely very bad, but that’s not everybody’
Undated Handout Photo from Landscapers. Pictured: Olivia Colman as Susan Edwards. See PA Feature SHOWBIZ TV Landscapers. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/©Sky UK Ltd/HBO/Sister/Stefania Rosini. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature SHOWBIZ TV Landscapers.
The Crown actress, 47, who in 2019 landed the best actress Oscar for her role as Queen Anne in The Favourite, joins Fargo and Harry Potter actor David Thewlis to play middle-aged couple Susan and Christopher Edwards in Sky’s darkly comical true crime drama Landscapers.
It’s a story with the ingredients of a gripping narrative: a couple with a penchant for classic film memorabilia, who to the outside world appeared to live a secluded and sedentary life inside their modest Dagenham council flat.
But the truth is more sordid: The pair had shot dead Susan’s parents, William and Patricia Wycherley, at point blank range and buried the bodies in the back garden of the Wycherleys’ Mansfield home at some point over the 1998 May bank holiday weekend.
In the years that followed, the bodies lay undiscovered beneath the lawn with not a single person alerted to their disappearance. Meanwhile, their daughter and son-in-law had siphoned off their life savings.
With the screenplay written by Colman’s husband, it’s a project that was something of a family affair.
“He was fascinated by it,” she says, almost bouncing in her seat as she explains Sinclair’s interest in the story.
“Ed had described this amazing thing he’d read in The Guardian initially – and all the memorabilia. He saw it very sympathetically from Susan’s point of view and was interested in approaching everything from the point of view of someone who had committed a crime which was unusual.”
In a story which shifts audience sympathies in unexpected ways, darker revelations begin to unravel after the pair finally confess to the crimes.
Reflecting on the tale, which in the series sees the Edwardses fall into a fantasy world, casting themselves as Hollywood heroes while fending off their real-life guilt, Colman says: “Some people are genuinely very bad, but that’s not everybody.”
Colman, who first found fame as Sophie, the girlfriend of David Mitchell’s neurotic Mark in the TV comedy Peep Show, has become the toast of Hollywood over the last few years thanks to roles like The Favourite and her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in lavish Netflix series The Crown, with her upcoming role in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Elena Ferrante adaptation, The Lost Daughter, already generating buzz ahead of award season.
How did she find working alongside her husband of more than 20 years?
“Once he’d written it then the hard thing is handing it over to a creative team who are going to also put their stamp on it,” she says. “It’s a learning curve but we sort of left each other alone – he has his job and I have my job. So for example he’s seen all of it but he’s never told me what he thinks of my performance.”
But keeping the line between professional and private very separate was fundamental.
Colman says: “We’re very honest about how this wouldn’t happen in a normal writer/actor relationship, so I don’t want to change that. I like our roles being separate. I think we both admire what the other one does – I love Ed’s writing but I wouldn’t dare to get into his writing process.
“And God help him if he tried to tell me how to do what I do.”
Thewlis, 58, says it was Sinclair’s script that gripped him. He explains: “It was one of the best things I’ve ever had come through to my inbox. I read it all in one go. It just read like a wonderful book.
“It was very moving and I just thought the characters were fantastic. The dialogue is solid gold and it’s just been a pleasure to learn every day. I think it’s the most extraordinary story because we are going against the grain, when framing this strange, strange murder case.”
Described as a crime of passion by the couple in court, Susan told police she was sexually abused by her father until the age of 11, with her mother being complicit. She also claimed her mother had turned the gun on her father before confessing that she was having an affair with Christopher in a bid to provoke Susan.
With The Edwardses both currently serving life sentences for murder, Sinclair approached Susan’s solicitor, Darrell Ennis-Gayle, in a bid to unearth more information. “He was able to introduce me to Susan and persuade her that I was trustworthy,” says Sinclair, who describes how he “started a correspondence” with the couple individually.
“I wasn’t allowed to ask them about the crime or anything like that. There were a few letters that were censored and never made it through because it touched a little too closely on that. So most of those letters were about their background, their relationship, her childhood, when they met, when they married, all that sort of stuff.”
And while letters streamed back and forth between Colman’s husband and the couple in prison, the journey to create Landscapers also saw Colman converse with Ennis-Gayle about the nuances of Nottingham-born Susan’s character and dialect.
“I said, ‘what was her voice like?’ And he said, ‘she sounds just like you!’” recalls Colman with a grin. “I said, ‘Great, that’ll do, I want you to stop there’ – he might have a terrible ear for accents, we don’t know.”
Having met through a dating agency in 1984, over the course of their marriage the Edwardses compiled an extensive collection of faded autographs and iconic movie posters from the golden age of cinema – purchases that set the couple back tens of thousands of pounds.
Susan also claimed to have a collection of correspondence with acclaimed French actor Gerard Depardieu, but it later came to light that the alleged 14 years of letters back and forth had been entirely faked, French stamps and all, to the surprise of even her husband Christopher.
Their deceit came to an end after a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions arrived congratulating William on his 100th birthday and calling for an in-person assessment. Eventually fleeing to France for a year before running out of money and ultimately confessing to the crime, the Edwardses asked police to finance their Eurostar tickets home in exchange for their quiet surrender.
“For me, if the script is good enough, it’s all in the script,” says Colman in summary. Going on to describe Landscapers as a “thought-provoking” and “sumptuous piece of drama”, the actress says that above all else, viewers will undoubtedly find themselves barking: “Oh, my God, what happened?” at their screens.
Landscapers is on Sky Atlantic and streaming service NOW from December 7.
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