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David Thewlis as Christopher Edwards in Landscapers, the story of a mild-mannered couple who turn to murder.Courtesy of HBO / Crave

It was one of Britain’s more bizarre murder cases. In 1998, Susan Edwards, with the help of her husband Christopher, went to visit her parents and murdered them. They buried the bodies in the back garden of her parents’ small house and then slowly plundered their bank accounts, while telling friends and relatives that the parents had moved away to another town.

The bodies weren’t found, and a murder investigation launched, until 2013. Thing is, hardly anyone knew Susan and Christopher. They were reclusive, just as Susan’s parents had been. The only thing odd about the two couples was that they kept to themselves. Otherwise, they seemed definitively ordinary. When arrested eventually and tried, it was discovered that one of their obsessions was memorabilia. They had bought old movie posters and the autographs of movie stars.

Landscapers (starts Monday on HBO/Crave, 9 p.m.) is a new four-part mini-series about the couple, their crime and their lives. Because little is still known about them, the series takes a speculative tack. At their sentencing, the judge called Susan “an accomplished liar and a fantasist.” The series lifts off from that reference to “fantasist,” and presents Susan (Olivia Colman) and Christopher (David Thewlis) as people living in a private fantasy world much influenced by the movies. It references Hollywood storytelling and movie styles constantly, shifting from black-and-white to lurid technicolour and framing the story as a pastiche of what the couple consumed in the films they saw.

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Further, the series (written by Ed Sinclair, who is married to Colman, and directed with élan by Will Sharpe) is making a point about how filmmaking shapes reality. Watching, you are made very aware that you’re watching a mini-series being made and you’re asked to ponder if these main characters are appalling, eccentric or stark raving mad.

One thing is certain – they are in love. They protect and obsess about each other. Really, no one else is alive to them. It’s a strange kind of narcissism they have and you might even feel sorry for them. They believe in their own fantasies but what’s happening, too, is that they believe their own lies.

When we first meet them, they’re on the run in France. They’ve been there for a while because they knew that back in England the truth was beginning to come out. They are hopeless in France, these very ordinary and unworldly English people. Yet to each other they are just hopeless romantics, living out a movie about themselves. Susan is buying a poster of an old Gary Cooper movie, something she can’t afford, and they’re both living the fantasy that they are pen-pals with Gérard Depardieu, who writes often. Seamlessly, in Susan’s mind, Christopher becomes Gary Cooper and we see Thewlis with a gun and holster, looking like a western hero.

To achieve the required impact of the elaborate technique of storytelling used, which is itself a deconstruction of storytelling, takes enormous skill. Everyone involved here has that skill and the series is both disturbing and delectable. Colman and Thewlis are obliged to inhabit their characters both as chameleons who shift from one type of movie storytelling to others, and simultaneously as rather sad-sack middle-aged English people who are in over their heads when they do anything except nourish each other.

Olivia Colman as Susan Edwards in Landscapers.stefania rosini/Courtesy of HBO / Crave

It isn’t long before the police back in Britain have been alerted to the presence of two bodies buried in a garden. At that point we are in the familiar territory of the contemporary British crime drama, with down-to-earth cops swearing a blue streak as they try to make sense of what they’ve been told. They’re obliged to come to grips with who Susan and Christopher are. But in Susan’s mind she’s Grace Kelly to her husband’s Gary Cooper and Christopher buys into this because, first, he longs to be a strong, silent type and, second, he dare not shatter Susan’s movie-infused fantasy.

Landscapers is one of the most gloriously challenging productions in years. It entwines a true-crime drama – the real question is why they murdered – with visual storytelling that’s a kind of rumination on movie fantasy. It’s addictive, funny and grim, a very rare gem of a production.

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