In addition to the return of Endeavour on Masterpiece Mystery this week, PBS will air The Tunnel, a French-English co-production from 2013. If the initial episodes are any indication, this police procedural might be worth digging into. Fair warning to those who prefer their mysteries on the mild side, however—there’s uncomfortable stuff ahead.
We begin near Calais, France, with an ordinary worker on an ordinary day at the Eurotunnel between England and France. Things seem quiet enough, until he spots the body of a woman in the service tunnel intentionally placed on the line that marks the border between England and France.
The French police investigative team, led by Elise Wassermann (Clémence Poésy), recognizes the woman immediately as a high-profile member of the French parliament, an anti-immigration hardliner. “Her head is in France,” Wassermann tells her English counterpart, Karl Roebuck (Stephen Dillane), as they view the body. “She’s French. So it remains a French investigation.”
Le Boom. That’s him schooled.
Wassermann’s single-minded fervor for her work intimidates even her own colleagues. Roebuck, on the other hand, takes a laissez-faire approach. It’s fairly evident that if he were pushed to back off, he would go quietly—only stopping to pick up some croissants for the wife and kids at home. All in a day’s work, really. Except, when the crime scene team tries to move the body, they find the dead woman has been neatly sawn in half. A few minutes later, we learn that the “body” is composed of two distinct halves from two different women: the French MP and an English prostitute.
This is now officially an international incident. Time to put diplomacy into action.
In Wassermann and Roebuck we have a pairing of opposites. “He’s a clown,” Wassermann tells her boss. Her later, more charitable, assessment: “He talks a lot. His car smells of wet dog.”
She’s so humorless, she’s funny. Or as Roebuck describes her, “She fell into a magic potion but instead of giving her strength, it took away all of her social skills.” (There’s more to her than that, as will become apparent.)
The crime is horrific. The killer spent a long time planning it and staged it for maximum effect. Now he’s demanding international attention. It’s up to Wassermann and Roebuck to provide it, with some help from Danny Hillier (Tom Bateman), an arrogant journalist who lives in an implausibly swanky beach pad.
There’s plenty happening on the periphery as well, starting with a French financier in fear for his life and plotting an escape to the Bahamas. Then there’s Stephen Beaumont (Joseph Mawle, a Game of Thrones alumnus like Dillane), who might be helping—but could be harming—desperate women seeking asylum in the U.K. Plus, Beaumont’s sister Suze (Keeley Hawes from MI-5, Ashes to Ashes, and more) is running some shady jive of her own.
It’s all dark and murky—that includes the look of the series. Keep your finger on the rewind button; facts come at you fast in the beginning as you decipher who’s who.
The Tunnel is based on The Bridge, a Danish-Swedish co-production that also spawned an American version a couple of years back. Normally, I’m skeptical of remakes, but I’m taking this one on its own merits because I haven’t seen the original. (A person can’t watch everything!) Apparently, the French-English version treads very close to the first. Proceed accordingly, and please resist the urge to post spoilers.
Assuming you haven’t watched The Bridge, there’s plenty here that’s fresh, and the tension is high. There are also some things that are downright disturbing, so gentle viewers will want to proceed with caution when making their way through The Tunnel.
Let’s catch up when we reach the other side.
Leslie Gilbert Elman is the author of Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous, and Totally Off the Wall Facts. Follow her on Twitter @leslieelman.
Read all of Leslie Gilbert Elman’s posts for Criminal Element.