Review: The Kettering Incident (S1 E1&2/8), Wednesday 15th February, Sky Atlantic

the-kettering-incidentOK, so this review is a week late and I apologise. I had watched the double-billed opening a week before it showed on Sky Atlantic, but then life sort of got in the way. I wanted to post it though, because this Australian series was intriguing and odd and infuriating and everything else in between. But before all that… I come from the Midlands in England, where near to my hometown there’s a town called Kettering. With apologies to all its inhabitants, it’s nothing too much to write home about. So when I saw that there was a series on Sky Atlantic called The Kettering Incident, I wondered whether it was going tell the story of the time I ran out of petrol near the town when I was driving on my way back from Peterborough. But, of course, The Kettering Incident has nothing to do with Kettering, Leicestershire and has everything to do with Kettering, Tasmania. 

Reading the reviews of The Kettering Incident on media outlets after the show aired last Wednesday, David Lynch’s name was mentioned in many of them. And I can see why – the location in which this supernaturally-tinged crime drama is set has a similar feel to northwest America, where the world of Twin Peaks is constructed: there are forests shrouded in mist; strong, old trees; strangeness in the air; and a population consisting of grim-faced, scarred men and women. But wait. This isn’t an American drama, this is Australian, so where are the sun-kissed beaches and the eye-squintingly bright colour palettes we got in dramas like The Code and Deep Water? Instead of the Gold Coast, The Kettering Incident tells its story on the island of Tasmania, whose climate is as changeable as New Zealand, the American northwest and even Britain. It is grey, overcast and, unusually for Australian dramas, people where coats. It looks cold and it feels cold.

The story itself starts with two young girls careening down a forest track late at night. They are Anna Macy and Gillian Baxter. They see strange lights in the forest and are terrified. Only Anna returns to Kettering.

Skip forward a number of years, and Anna Macy – now Dr Anna Macy – is woken in a stairwell by a policeman in even London. After the disappearance of Gillian all those years ago, it seems (although we’re not told) Anna relocated to the UK and fashioned a successful career for herself. Except, I have no idea how she managed to do that because she regularly blacks out, suffers from nosebleeds and is found to have lesions on her brain. She’s not in good shape mentally and physically, and yet she has managed to hold down a career as a doctor and a relationship with a married colleague. She has a propensity to snap and be aggressive. I didn’t really like her.

These scenes in London and in the hospital felt like a cheap version of Casualty, but the next time we see Anna (who’s played by Elizabeth Debicki, of The Night Manager fame) she’s waking up from another blackout in a car overlooking the coastal cliffs of her hometown.

How did she get there?

It’s all a bit confusing and discombobulating, but back in town Anna is faced with a suspicious population, not least her own father, who seems to be part of a cadre of gruff-talking men who are striking deals to wipe out the forest. The mother of Gillian hates her, naturally (her daughter is still classed as missing), and all her old muckers tell her to bugger off back to London.

The Kettering Incident, like dear old Jordskott and Ängelby before it, mixes supernatural elements with the mythos of the forest – deep in the trees something lives, or exists, and it’s being threatened by something, acting like a sleeping monster who has been prodded awake.

As time goes by, we’re introduced to the residents of the town and its internal machinations and politics (including a copper who sells drugs to kids, a group of hippies in the woods who have massive parties that look amazing and are trying to stave off the loggers) and, strangely, some enormous moths that flutter about that seem to portend something. Crucially, we see a support group for people who believe they have been abducted by aliens.

As Anna drifts and sashays moodily about the town, one of her devotees (someone who has also seen the lights) goes missing at one of the hippy parties. In this X-Files meets Jordkott headscratcher of a whatdunit – I say headscratcher because it’s dreamlike and interesting without ever being fully arresting or edge-of-your-seat – it seems that Anna is going to stick around and try to find out what happened to her and her friend Gillian in Kettering all those years ago. And, to be honest, so will I.

Paul Hirons

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