Series Review: The North Water (2021)

I love British TV. I mean, most countries tend to have good TV, but British programming just has something special about them that makes them infinitely watchable and/or interesting. So with that said, let’s talk about one.

Ladies, gents, and non-binaries… “The North Water”.

The year is 1859. Former army surgeon Patrick Sumner (Jack O’Connell) finds himself taking a job on a whaling ship heading towards the arctic. And we follow him as he deals with working on this ship, struggling not just the elements, but his fellow crewmates as well. What I do find quite interesting about “The North Water” is that it’s not the most plot-driven show. It’s not about a MacGuffin, there’s no real goal to this journey. Instead it’s a dark exploration of how the trauma of a man’s past and present can change you, bring you closer to the darkness. It’s a somber, moody, and often disturbing deep dive into the damaged psyche of Patrick and a few of his fellow crewmates, and I found it absolutely riveting from start to end. The deliberately glacial (HA!) pace may throw some people off, but I personally think it added to the atmosphere, making any suspense and general sense of unease even greater, which helped make for one hell of an engaging narrative.

As I kind of implied, this show is very much more character-driven. And lucky for us, the characters in this are spectacular. All of them clearly damaged in some way, hiding either intentions or their own trauma, which led to me not really knowing who to trust, which adds a lot to the vibe of the show. What also helps is that there’s not a weak link in the cast. Jack O’Connell is fantastic as our lead, Sumner. Colin Farrell is unsettlingly fantastic as the enigmatic Henry Drax. Stephen Graham is terrific as the ship’s captain. And the rest of the cast, contining people like Roland Møller, Sam Spruell, Gary Lamont, Philip Hill-Pearson, Kieran Urquhart, and more, all delivering top notch work.

The score for the show was composed by Tim Hecker, and I think he did a terrific job with it. It’s a low-key, moody, almost horror-esque score, relying heavily rumbling strings, some subtle piano, and even occasional bit of synths to create an unsettling sound that fits really well with the setting and characters. It’s great stuff.

Based on the novel of the same name by Ian McGuire, all episodes of “The North Water” were written and directed by Andrew Haigh, and the man has just absolutely outdone himself. His direction really captures the feeling of helplessness and isolation that one might feel while going on this type of journey, making every moment of the journey feel uneasy. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a regular conversation, a flashback, or a scene of hunting being done, Haigh’s direction is tense and terrific. He also doesn’t shy away from showing us some grisly fucking stuff. The blood and violence in this show is quite disturbing, and at times even quite disgusting, and while I do think it works for the show and adds to the storytelling, I do think it could put some people off. So if you got a weak stomach or you generally just don’t like gruesome content… you have been warned. On a less icky note, the cinematography by Nicolas Bolduc is absolutely spectacular. The angles, the lighting, the colors, it all looks spectacular and works really well to elevate the storytelling even further. This show is just immaculately crafted.

This show’s been quite well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 95% positive rating. On Metacritic it has a score of 74/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 7.6/10.

“The North Water” is one of the best shows I’ve seen in recent years. It has a great story, great characters, fantastic performances, great music, and fantastic direction/cinematography. Time for my final score. *Ahem*. My final score for “The North Water” is a 9.88/10. So it gets the “SEAL OF APPROVAL!”.

My review of “The North Water” is now completed.

Interesting to think that something so dark and disturbing can come from the same director as the tender and warm “Weekend”.

2 thoughts on “Series Review: The North Water (2021)

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