We’re in an idyllic small town in west Scotland. Two of the local primary school teachers, Kate and Jess, are best friends. Their partners, Tom and Steve, are a GP and a police officer respectively. It’s a tight-knit community. The type that’ll hold a barn dance in the town hall because that's just the sort of thing that happens here. The kids bound around on hay bales, the mums keep an eye as they sip wine from paper cups, the dads chat shop around a small bonfire outside and teens on bikes pass around tins of beer. It’s all very wholesome...on the surface.
What the fictional village of Kirkdarroch doesn’t know is that it's just hours away from a disaster that will turn everyone’s cosy little lives upside down. Channel 4’s new four-part miniseries, Deadwater Fell follows the aftermath of a fire that breaks out at Kate (Anna Madeley) and Tom’s (David Tennant) big, beautiful house in the forest. Jess (Cush Jumbo), who lives with Steve (Matthew McNulty) and his two boys from a previous marriage, spots the fire from the bedroom window.
She and Steve rush over to their friends' aid, only to find much of the estate already engulfed by flames. Police officer Steve heroically enters the building and drags Tom and Kate from the wreckage before the emergency services arrive. Neither Kate, nor the couple's three young daughters, Charlotte, Iris and Emily, survive the tragedy and it’s devastatingly painful to watch scenes from the following day when the primary school headmaster has to deliver the news to the class.
Tom was found alive and is rushed to the hospital to be kept in the intensive care unit to recover from severe smoke inhalation. The community is grief-stricken. Steve is racked with guilt at not having saved the entire family. Jess is desperate to get to the truth of how it all happened in the first place.
As the mystery unfolds, we’re given flashbacks to paint a clearer picture of the two families – Tom and Kate, Jess and Steve – in the middle of the tragedy. We learn that Kate really struggled after the birth of her third daughter, Charlotte. She recently had her antidepressant medication reduced but the show also teases a worrying relationship with alcohol when, after a fallout on the beach, husband Tom thrusts a glass of wine in front of her, seemingly to calm her down.
Kate clearly had secrets but she doesn’t seem to be the only one. In the final moments of the first episode, we learn that there was an affair going on among the two couples, but it’s unclear who knew what. Jess' backstory is yet to unfold but we know that she wasn’t born and raised in the area like the majority of the town's residents. She and Steve seem happy but are finding it difficult to have a child of their own. Steve, now investigating the deaths of the children his sons had been growing up with, is struggling. He can only share so much of the inquiry with the prying people beyond the police force but speculation grows quickly and spreads even quicker.
Hopeful residents think that the fire was an accident or at worst, an intrusion by a stranger. Others start to suspect Tom, though, whose first words on waking from his coma were "What has she done?" – 'she' being Kate. There's a niggling concern that this might be another TV drama to vilify a vulnerable woman whose mental health struggles are suggested at convenient points of the investigation. But we can hope that there's more to the mystery. The coroner finds marks on Kate's inner arm, and a matching one is spotted on Tom's. It looks like they had both injected something before the fire but it's unclear what. Things are only going to get darker and more troubling but it's clear that despite Kirkdarroch's quiet and contented exterior, no one can confidently be trusted.
Deadwater Fell starts on Channel 4 on Friday 10th January at 9pm