Back in 2014 French series Witnesses came in at number five in our top crime dramas of the year (go here to refresh your memories), and we couldn’t wait to see what series two had up its sleeve. And then we waited. And waited. Channel 4 – who broadcasted the series here in the UK – was quiet. Too quiet. And then we started to hear that series two had begun filming, and Spiral’s magnificent Audrey Fleurot had joined the cast, which was too exciting for words. But the waiting continued and we were eager to find out when it would be arriving in the UK. Now we know, and it’s not going to be on Channel 4.
French crime drama, Witnesses, was one of our favourite dramas of 2015 (see our appraisal here). It was the Normandy-set story of two police officers – one brought out of retirement, the other his protegé from police college – who tried to find the Clown Killer, a perpetrator of some grotesque crimes. It was engrossing, twisty-turny and turned out to be a multi-layered procedural that paid homage to all your favourite Scandi noirs. With filming set to start in the coming weeks in northern France, we’ve got our first sniff at the plotlines and one major piece of casting news.
Within the blink of an eye, this excellent French series found itself at its conclusion – five episodes of fast-moving, multi-layered police procedural with two intriguing characters at its heart had left me breathless, and desperate to find out who was behind the murders of four men. There was lots to tie up and not a lot of time to do it in, but like the rest of the episodes before it this sixth episode didn’t pause for breath in revealing everything. In episode five we had already established that this was a three-layered crime story. On the top layer was Kaz Gorbier the psychopath who had been tormenting Paul Maisonneuve and trying to avenge Maisonneuve’s perceived role in breaking up his family; on the second was Laura, who had been digging up dead bodies and rearranging them in show homes in the Le Tréport area to send Maisonneuve a message; and the third unknown person, who had actually murdered the four exhumed men in the first place. What started off as a macabre set-up involving those carefully arranged cadavers in show homes quickly unpeeled layer upon layer until it made my head spin. We were introduced to another layer of the story at the end of the last episode: the digger-uppers had left Maisonneuve another clue – the press clipping that detailed the suicide of a young woman who the detective had admitted was his first love. So who was she? And how would this all end?
If there’s one thing we know about this excellent French procedural is that it doesn’t muck about. Let’s face it, with only six episodes in the series it hasn’t got time to muck about, but still. Last week we were plunged into a scenario where Paul Maisonneuve – that flinty old detective with more skeletons in his closet than an orthopedic specialist – had been taken captive by his nemesis, Kaz Gorbier, who had brought his ex-wife and son along for the family recreating ride. Maisonneuve’s partner, Sandra Winckler, faced a race against time to find them… or rely on the captives themselves to find a solution to their predicament.
After the tumult in series finales like True Detective and Jordskott this week, it’d be easy to despair at the great, big crime drama-shaped holes these two series are leaving. So thank goodness for Witnesses, Channel 4’s excellent Normandy-set crime drama, which is the best of the lot. It has been full of twists, turns and short, sharp action that has kept us on the edge of our seats, and tonight there were more twists and turns. Sorry… True what? Jords… what?
We’re hitting the half way stage of this excellent French drama and already the villains have been unmasked. A long way to being caught, yes, but unmasked and identified nonetheless. This a brave way to go for any series, and Witnesses has changed quickly from a whodunit to a cat-and-mouse game, with Kaz Gorbier (and Greg Serano) on the loose and taunting Maisonneuve for reasons I’m sure we’ll soon find out. The taunting continued tonight, with the escaped rapist and murderer once again turning a show home into a grotesque family scene. With some new, crucial revelations, we also found out why Gorbier had gone to so much trouble to taunt the taciturn, saturnine detective.
Last week’s first episode of Witnesses was so grotesque in its premise, its characters so engaging and the pacing and plotting almost perfect, it was impossible not to be hugely impressed by it. It set itself up as a really dark and gritty procedural, mixing Scandinavian influences with the French’s current penchant for superb crime drama. What wasn’t to like about that?