Title: The Fades
Starring: Ian De Caestecker, Daniel Kaluuya, Johnny Harris, Joe Dempsie
Airing: Wednesdays, 9pm, BBC Three
We knew so very little about The Fades going in. The trailers were enigmatic, showing flocks of birds and flashes of spooky action, but when the series started we were none the wiser as to what we were going to get. What we got was a show that seriously challenges Being Human for the title of best British supernatural drama show of the year.
This show looks fantastic. The direction, lighting and editing juxtaposes the mundane real world with the horror and stands toe to toe with recent Hollywood efforts. The effects are also well handled. From the visceral physical effects of the cocooned Fades and their flesh eating to the CGI showing ascension as people cross over to the other side and become a flock of glowing birds.
One of the refreshing things about The Fades is that it treats the audience with the intelligence to work out what is happening. Explanations occur naturally through the narrative with very little info dumping by characters and the rest is left for the audience to put together. Jack Thorne has written some of the best TV drama of recent years including Shameless, Skins and This is England '86. It is that experience of writing strong character-driven stories that he brings to The Fades.
All the characters are fully formed with their own motivations and back histories which gives a real world counterpoint to the supernatural action. This is a show that is just as comfortable showing the awkwardness of losing one's virginity as it is showing the gateway to the afterlife.
Ian De Caestecker give a fantastic central performance as Paul, a young man completely out of his depth and forced to grow up quickly as he finds himself thrown into the middle of the conflict between the undead Fades and humanity's ramshackle defence, the Angelics. Even as Paul's powers grow, De Caestecker never lets you forget that Paul is a teenager trying to do the right thing in a world he doesn't fully understand. Aiding him is Daniel Kaluuya as best friend Mac. The friendship between the two, based on a mutual love of geeky films and paternal abandonment, comes across as completely believable. You never doubt Mac's loyalty to his best friend or how much Paul needs him to stay anchored. His guilt at causing the accident that nearly kills Paul and his plea to Paul's mother not to turn off his life support balance out the constant film references which could have otherwise have become irritating. The decision to have Mac recap previous episodes was a stroke of genius, especially in episode six where he tells you what's going on, while locked in a car boot and terrified for his life.
The adult cast also shine, with the stand-out performances from Johnny Harris as Angelic Neil and Joe Dempsie as Fade leader John. Harris is initially the Obi-Wan figure who teaches Paul about the Fades and the Angelics. When Neil finds himself as de facto leader of the Angelics he shows a man struggling to cope with a job he's not suited for, as the Fades become more powerful and his fellow Angelics die. Dempsie puts in a utterly compelling performance as he goes from guttural monster who can barely speak to erudite leader of the Fades uprising. John feels cheated out of the afterlife and wrongly branded a monster. The story of how he first gained flesh and why he hates the Angelics is a tragic one and you can understand why Paul would be temporarily convinced to help him.
Credit should also be given to the supporting cast whose underplayed performances could easily be overlooked. The always great Claire Rushbrook plays Paul's mother, a woman trying to cope with bringing up a troubled family on her own, who is disturbed by the idea that she has started to fear her own son. Tom Ellis is solid as Mark, the teacher who finds himself accused of murder and learns of his ex-wife (in every sense) Sarah's secret life as an Angelic. Robbie Gee as Mac's father DCI Armstrong has a story that mirrors that of Neil. He has also been promoted beyond his abilities and is equally incapable of dealing with the situation. You can hear the defeat in his voice when he announces that the police have no idea what is going on or how to stop it and basically tells everyone to run.
It is Armstrong who sums up one of the main themes of The Fades when he says “Desperate men do desperate things”. John and Sarah are desperate to live again even if it costs them their humanity. Neil is so desperate for Paul to kill John that he kidnaps Mac and Paul's family and in one shocking scene executes Paul's girlfriend in front of him to prove how serious he is. Armstrong is so desperate for a result to appease his superiors that he arrests Mark despite having no real evidence. Paul is so desperate to be more than just a weapon against the Fades that he reopens the gateway to the afterlife: it appears that this decision will have serious repercussions in the next series.
BBC Three and E4 seem to have become the natural home for this sort of experimental drama and long may it continue if it gives the world shows like this. Now we all have to hope that they commission a second series, as The Fades has joined Being Human and Misfits as some of the very best of what is becoming a renaissance for British genre television. In years to come this show deserves to mentioned in the same breath as classic TV spookfests like Sapphire and Steel and Ghostwatch.
Now has anyone seen my Evil Dead box set?
If you missed The Fades, it is available on BBC iplayer until 2nd November, and will be released on DVD at the end of the year.