FIRST LOOK: Red Light

Lifting the lid on the new Carice Van Houten series.

You can always guarantee Walter Presents will come up trumps when it comes to finding new, quality series and the brand looks as though it has unearthed another foreign-language hit with Red Light.

We’ve also come to expect quality crime drama from Belgium recently, so when you consider that this Dutch series is directed by Wouter Bouvijn and co-stars the excellent Maaike Neuville (certainly one of the rising stars of European crime drama), the Belgian influence is heavy (and welcome). But when you add into the mix award-winning Dutch actor and director Halina Reijn and global star Carice Van Houten, and throw in a plot that centres around the sex industry in Amsterdam and beyond, you have a bit of a must-watch series.

To begin with, we’re presented with three main characters – Esther (Reijn), an opera singer whose marriage is strained; Sylvia (Van Houten) a sex worker/pimp who’s in thrall to her pimp/boyfriend Ingmar; and Evi (Neuville), a cop who is embroiled in her own personal problems but in her day job is concerned with human trafficking and catching those who perpetrate it.

The three women are seemingly unconnected, but events during the first episode – which was shown to invited guests in London – bring them together in unexpected and sometimes surprising ways.

Let’s talk about sex. This show is very much about the world of sex and sex work, but remarkably it isn’t ‘sexy’ in the slightest. It isn’t gratuitous in any way, shape or form, and is not lascivious at all. Instead, this 10-part series is adult, mature and is more interested in the relationship between sex and power, and how sex can and has become a commodity. We saw these subjects expertly studied in The Deuce, and Red Light does the same – it’s concerned with how sex is used to exploit other human beings, how it’s used as something you can buy and sell and how it’s used to hurt people. Crucially, it’s framed from a female perspective.

But Red Light is also a crime drama. Evi and her colleagues in the police are on the hunt for a killer when a sex worker is found dead in a brothel. The Netherlands’ more relaxed laws when it comes to sex work means that the police have to enter and do their work in morally grey areas.

Red Light boasts a very, very strong cast especially the trio of leads. I’ll be talking more about Van Houten, in particular, when I post my series review next month.

After the screening there was an entertaining half-an-hour or so, which saw Reijn and Van Houten hold court. Their friendship and their natural, easy chemistry were evident, and together they were funny, engaging and insightful.

They said they had been inspired by shows like The Bridge from Scandinavia, and when they conceived Red Light they were intent on entering into partnerships with broadcasters and production companies from all over Europe. But they really wanted to work with someone from Belgium.

There were also other tidbits about Reijn and Bouvijn’s research into the murky world of sex work, explaining that they spoke to everyone from the sex workers themselves to the pimps and gangsters who run the clubs. They even went out to dinner with some of the pimps on one occasion.

After building their own red light district in Antwerp in which to film in, you can see the research and attention to detail have paid dividends – just from episode one alone, you can see that it’s a dark, important and engrossing story, with terrific central performances and a strong procedural element. One to watch.

Red Light: From Sunday 9th October, Channel 4 (then all episodes on All4)

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