HBO's 'Landscapers' humanizes a loving couple at the center of a grisly crime The show, which premiers on Monday, is based on the true story of a mild-mannered couple who commit horrific crimes.


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HBO's 'Landscapers' unearths the bizarre love story at the center of a grisly crime

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Award-winning British actors Olivia Colman and David Thewlis play a mild-mannered couple who admit to horrific crimes in HBO's new limited series "Landscapers." NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says the dark comedy, which debuts tomorrow, is based on a true story, inspiring one of the most oddly creative miniseries of the year.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: An important moment in "Landscapers" comes during a fight between accountant Christopher Edwards and his doting wife, a former librarian named Susan. The British couple was living in France. And Christopher, played by David Thewlis, is trying to find work. What he hasn't really told Susan, played by Olivia Colman, is that his French is so bad he can't land a job, until she expresses optimism for his latest job interview.


DAVID THEWLIS: (As Christopher Edwards) I won't get a second interview. It's been a week.

OLIVIA COLMAN: (As Susan Edwards) Now, why would you say that? Why would you give up?

THEWLIS: (As Christopher Edwards) Because it was a terrible interview. They've all been terrible. It was a waste of time. And it was humiliating.

DEGGANS: The couple are on edge and penniless, in part because they left England over a terrible secret. They had buried the bodies of Susan's mother and father in the backyard of her parents' home 15 years ago, letting the world believe they were still alive. When officers eventually asked around, one neighbor remembered seeing Chris doing something odd in his in-laws' backyard years ago.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) I looked out my window. And I saw Chris digging a hole, quite a deep hole - very deep, in fact. We joked about it - didn't we? - because we said he's probably burying his in-laws (laughter) because it was about that time that they'd moved away. So I don't know if that could be used as a - some kind of clue.

DEGGANS: But even after finding the bodies and contacting Christopher by email, police didn't have enough evidence to arrest them in Europe, which greatly upset a police official explaining the situation to a subordinate.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) So they can just stay there as long as they like?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Yes. At the minute, all we've got are those bullets, a pair of rickety old skeletons in a backyard buried God knows when, and a vague proclamation of innocence from a man who writes very polite emails to the police. So either we come up with some hard evidence, or croque madame and her pen-pal Muppet husband can carry on with their French bloody holiday for as long as they damn well please.

DEGGANS: Police believe Christopher killed both parents. But he says Susan shot her mother during a heated argument after her mother had shot and killed her father. He also says both parents were verbally abusive to her and that Susan's father had sexually abused her.

"Landscapers" is a darkly funny drama based on a true story about what happened when the Edwards returned to England and faced murder charges. Christopher is focused on protecting Susan, who he views as emotionally fragile. Colman is bright eyed and confused as Susan, who sometimes escapes mentally to a dreamworld where she and Christopher move through her favorite movies, especially Westerns. She spent all their money on worthless movie memorabilia, inspiring ridicule from the public and prosecutors.


COLMAN: (As Susan Edwards) I'm not fragile. I'm broken. You can send me to prison. And you can - you can all laugh at me. And you can make me look like a piece of dirt in front of all these people. But I'm broken. So you can't hurt me.

DEGGANS: As great as the acting and direction is here, it also humanizes a couple convicted of terrible crimes. The miniseries doesn't really show how the couple took actions like sending Christmas cards and letters to make it seem Susan's parents were alive, using their bank accounts and her father's pension to support themselves. "Landscapers" is a wonderfully inventive look at a bizarre case. But its quality also encourages viewers to empathize with a couple who may not deserve the sympathy this show will likely generate. I'm Eric Deggans.


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