The North Water

Rating 7.7
Streamer BBC iPlayer
Seasons 1
Episodes 5 x 60 mins

As summer fades into the backdrop and winter comes a-knocking, arctic weather and sniffly colds in tow, TV is about to get a whole lot cosier. You may have thought that whaling dramas weren’t really your thing, but with a star-studded cast, fantastic production value and epic storytelling going for it, The North Water may just change your mind. 

+ For another icy salt-water thriller, check out our review of Vigil.

Based on Ian McGuire’s novel of the same name, The North Water follows a whaling expedition deep into the austere arctic, involving harpoonist Henry Drax (effortlessly executed by Colin Farrell), former army surgeon Patrick Sumner (played by the captivating Jack O’Connell) and skipper Captain Brownlee (what can’t Stephen Graham do?).

+ If you want to see Stephen Graham in a slightly dafter role, take a look at Sky’s comedy, Code 404.

The Guardian’s Lucy Mangan is a fan of the show, hailing it as “a meaty, satisfying stew that is not going to trouble your mental digestion”, just the tonic for a snug night on the sofa, requiring “no deep thought and [providing] fathomless fun”. But does this make it a throwaway flick? The Telegraph’s Benji Wilson certainly doesn’t think so. What Mangan marks as easy watching, Wilson describes as “tough television set in tough times”, but then what else do you expect from a show which is smeared with whale blood and set in a 19thcentury arctic wasteland? 

There are two layers to this show – a little like an iceberg, if you’ll allow us that metaphorical stretch. Above water, we have Mangan’s “satisfying stew”, perfect to tuck into as brain-out TV after a busy day of work. However, beneath the water’s surface, we have a block of dense and hard-hitting narrative, allegorical and serious in its nature. In The New York Times, Mike Hale points to the way “social norms and feral brutality” are harpooned (along with the poor whales who happen to cross this crew’s path), acclaiming Haigh’s “careful, credible realism that gives his work a richness no matter how quiet or seemingly straightforward the action”. 

Whale meat is on the menu this autumn, and it’s as dense or digestible as you wish it to be.First shown September 2021. 

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