Suddenly my Faversham is in the news – apparently for all the wrong reasons.
My hometown, in Kent, England, serves as the location for a new Channel 4 drama called Southcliffe. ‘Why should that be a problem?’, you may well ask. Well, it’s a gun-spree drama. And like all dramas about gun-spree mayhem, serial killers or serial child abusers, it incites a voyeuristic obsession with the dark side, the very dark side, of humanity.
Channel 4’s press release for the four-part series that kicks off on 4 August says it will take the viewer on a voyage into the heart of darkness in Southcliffe, AKA Faversham. You, dear viewer, will be able to gape at ‘the inexplicable chain of events at the dark heart of this mini-series’, which ‘shatters time and space for Southcliffe’s inhabitants’.
Channel 4 likes dark. Time and again its PR handouts aim to titillate its target audience – the media elite – with promises of really dark stuff. So it helpfully reminds us that the writer of Southcliffe, Tony Grisoni, has a ‘unique ability to convey darkness’. For his part, Grisoni insists that his drama does not ‘moralise about’ characters, and with a nod to the theme of redemption he says ‘Southcliffe is an anthem to ordinary people’s ability to reinvent themselves in the face of ultimate darkness’.
In this era of reality TV, when life imitates art, does Faversham have anything to worry about after being put at the heart of a very dark drama about killing? Sean Durkin, director of Southcliffe, claims to have immersed himself in Faversham to help him create the series’ dark atmosphere. ‘There was a palpable atmosphere [in Faversham]’, he claimed. But then he did have to say something like that, otherwise he might as well have filmed the series in sunny Swiss Cottage. And just because some kind of atmosphere is ‘palpable’ in Faversham doesn’t mean the town is doomed, or will be scarred for life by mysterious dark secrets.