There seems to be a big crime drama event series starting every week these days. Who says summer is the quiet period in TV Land? Take this week as an example – on Sunday (26th July) the BBC starts its new Agatha Christie adaptation, Partners In Crime, while tomorrow there’s a new French crime drama I’m pretty confident will become your new favourite. It’s called Witnesses (Les Témoins in its native language) and it’s a must-watch. After the jump I’ll tell you why.
1. It has one of the most chilling premises ever seen on television
This one doesn’t mess about. We’re into the action straight away. A man comes home from work only to find that his living room has been repopulated with three dead bodies, lovingly arranged to mimic a traditional family setting. There’s mum and dad on the sofa, and a young woman perched on a stool at the breakfast bar in the kitchen. These doll-like cadavers, we soon realise, have been dug up from their graves and placed very deliberately. Why? How? Say what? You can’t, and won’t, get darker than that.
2. It has the feel of a Scandinavian crime drama
The colour palette is slate grey and is reminiscent of another French crime drama hit, Spiral. It’s bleak and unforgiving, the greyness like a smog seeping into our bones. Witnesses also has a female protagonist, lieutenant Sandra Winckler (Marie Dompnier), which automatically makes us recall Sara Lund or Saga Noren. The story and the unfolding drama, too, have the Scandi feel – high-concept, twisty and yet dark and conceptual. Bingo.
3. It has one of the best title sequences ever
Every crime drama these days has seemingly slipped into a uniform opening sequence, featuring a haunting vocal, a montage of dreamy images. Witnesses features something similar, but it’s actually a lot more than that – it’s almost like a mini film in itself. Yes, there’s the ubiquitous theme song, but also Sandra Winckler walking along a boardwalk on a windswept beach, flanked by beach huts. She’s walking towards a stand-alone hut at the end of the boardwalk, a bruised sky looming ominously above. What does she find inside? A wolf, baring its teeth. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
4. One of the two detectives has a walking stick
Winckler’s investigative partner, former police chief Paul Maisonneuve (Thierry Lhermitte), arrives on the scene, called out of retirement to lend his experience to this perplexing, chiiling case. He and Winckler have previous, and it’s not long before the two are at semi-logger heads. But, interestingly, he uses a walking stick, which gives him an air of distinguished nobility, quiet intelligence and a hint of vulnerability. Maisonneuve the latest in a long line of TV police men and women who carry, for whatever reason, a physical accessory.
5. It’s French
Us Brits do love a foreign-language crime drama, but its origin shouldn’t guarantee success or quality. But I’m convinced language is one of the reasons we love Scandinavian dramas so much. I actually look forward to reading and keeping up with the subtitles – they make you concentrate really hard, not only on the words but also the action. And, being French, there’s a perceived air of sophistication that seeps out, something we just don’t get from the likes of DCI Banks. And the French have had a good track record recently, with both Spiral and The Returned doing the business. Witnesses looks set to continue that trend.
Witnesses, Wednesday 22nd July, 10pm, Channel 4