Kat & Alfie: Redwater continues the story of these Eastenders stalwarts in a place far away from Albert Square, both literally and metaphorically.
As the opening helicopter shot of Redwater pans across the Atlantic ocean to settle on a beautiful, rural coastal village, it’s immediately obvious we’re not in soap-land anymore. Aesthetically, the show – with its large outdoor scenes in real locations, horses running on windswept beaches, verses of poetry recited with gusto in the pub – couldn’t be further from the programme that created its central characters.
Put together by former Eastenders staffers, Redwater seems to be almost a love letter to the characters of Kat & Alfie. A chance for the pair, and the producers, writers, and actors that bring them to life, to spread their wings in the big, wide world. The problem is… that’s the problem. Kat & Alfie don’t necessarily belong in the big wide world.
Outside of the confines of the soap format, like their accents, Wallace and Richie’s characters are immediately incongruous among the muted tones of the backdrop. They also rub against the more cinematic aspirations of the director – like almost every British TV character that has tried to break out into a movie, ever.
Redwater is essentially a fish out of water story, though – as all soap spin-offs are, at heart, I guess. I would also guess the ‘incomer’ angle is one that’ll be played on across the six episodes for dramatic effect as they find themselves further and further embroiled in the drama that unfolds late in this episode. Indeed, the animosity of certain characters to Kat is quickly bought to the surface. However, whether it’s a dynamic that will begin to grate over the course of the show remains to be seen.
It’s not that Richie and Wallace do not share an interesting on-screen chemistry together as Kat & Alfie, they do. Nor is it that they are out of their depth as actors among the accomplished cast, they don’t appear to be. It’s that their roles are so brashly caricatured (if not by the writers, then by we as viewers) that off-the-bat it’s hard to suspend disbelief for them when they’re anywhere but Albert Square. Unfortunately for the two stars, and the writers, they’re stuck with those characters. That, for at least 45 minutes here, has a similar effect to watching a bad special effect in a sci-fi movie: you know, when it’s really not real.
Kat (or Kathleen, as they’re trying to restyle her here) may as well have been fashioned from the wood of the Queen Vic bar and given life by a wave of the Archangel Ethel’s hand. She is pure Eastenders and horribly jarring anywhere else; so whether Redwater’s – admittedly impressive – writers can do the remedial work necessary for her character to be rounded and nuanced enough to fit the drama here is a big question mark. Richie’s Alfie is afflicted in the same way, but suffers less here simply because he takes up less screen time.
The problem is that what they signify is pretty much the exact antithesis of everything Redwater aspires to be. It wants to be high-end drama, and everything about its look and feel reflects that. That’s laudable goal-setting on behalf of the production team, no doubt. That does not, however, make it a good idea per se.
Like a tiny boat in a storm, it’s unclear whether Redwater‘s aspirations to gravitas can remain upright while carrying the baggage of its two main characters. Until we can spend more time with the central couple, and they’re given the chance to blend into the backdrop being painted for them – there’s a nice scene between the two towards the end that hints this is possible – the rest of the cast are going to have to man the pumps in their aid. The encouraging thing is that they seem like they may be up to the job – worthy of note is the last five minutes, a dark, dramatic twist played out with aplomb between Ian McElhinney and Oisin Stack that is well worth waiting for.
So, this is not a thumbs down for Redwater yet, not by a long chalk. It’s more a question mark against whether the foundations laid in this first 60 minutes will be stable enough to sustain interest for another five hours. Only episode two will give us a real hint as to that.