Sophie: A Murder in West Cork

Photograph: Netflix
Rating 7.8
Streamer Netflix
Seasons 1
Episodes 3 x 60 mins

Netflix have teed up another terrifying bit of true crime telly for us, this time set in Ireland’s rural region of West Cork, where French television producer Sophie Toscan du Plantier was found murdered outside her holiday home on the 23rd of December, 1996.

Ok, we know we’ve had a few of these now. Since the original true crime hit, Making a Murderer, Netflix have somewhat built a reputation for themselves as the home of true crime documentaries, regularly churning out another mystery for us to try and solve at home, with a plot full of murder, deceit and the miscarriage of justice. But in their defence, no matter how average some of them have been, each time another one gets released we gobble it down, and then discuss whodunit in the pub on Friday night.

But this one is less of a whodunit, and more of a howdidhegetawaywithit. In this three-part series, we journey to the south-west of Ireland where overlooked by Mount Gabriel, Sophie Toscan du Plantier was found dead, tangled up in the briars, her head badly injured by a rock. In the film, we meet local Schull residents, who explain how Sophie visited the area regularly and was a well-known figure in the community, known for sipping tea in cafes and reading her book. Then cross the Celtic sea to France, to meet her family.

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As always with these shows, at first, we suspect everyone. But mainly her husband, who acted a bit weird after the death, refusing to go over to Ireland to identify her body, and with all that money he had, maybe he ordered a hit man? But soon our focus is shifted to one man: the local reporter, Ian Bailey.

The remaining two and a half hours document the police’s pursuit of Bailey, and their building a case against him, which was helped along by the accounts of locals who had long been suspicious of the man, who they say was seen howling at the moon, and reciting dodgy poetry. There are arrests – plural – and apparent confessions to neighbours, alongside misdeeds by the Gardaí, in a fascinating, If completely bizarre, series of events.

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We shan’t spoil it by giving the details, but trust us when we say you’ll be captivated by this tale. And not just because of the mysteries surrounding the murder, but because of its setting. Despite the grim focus of the series, we can’t help but suspect that West Cork’s tourism board won’t mind the series, which shows the area in all its gorgeous, rugged beauty. Schull’s residents, too, come off remarkably well, welcoming people of all walks of life with open arms. So lovely are they, that your heart breaks for them, as well as for Sophie’s family – their home is forever tarnished by this devastating, brutal crime.

Ed Cumming in The Independent gives A Murder in West Cork four stars and says this is a “story that has absolutely everything, a trolley dash of documentary-friendly elements… Netflix has assembled a compelling film, but they have no excuse not to.” The Telegraph’s Ed Power agrees, saying “There are just so many bombshells, so many characters who could have walked from the pages of Flann O’Brien or Truman Capote. It’s In Cold Blood meets Father Ted: a blood-streaked yarn that is at times too heartbreaking to watch and too weird to be true.” In The Guardian, however, Lucy Mangan complained that the series “spends a lot of time following one version of events and then crams the unpicking and undermining of it,” but concedes “what the film manages to do very well, however, and better than most, is to capture both the minutiae and magnitude of grief.”

First shown June 2021. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.

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