This review contains spoilers.
Remakes of television and films from Scandinavia are turning into something of a gamble. The US version of The Killing has been axed for a second time and the life of David Fincher’s big-screen take on Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy currently hangs in the balance. Nordic retreads have fared better further away from the US though as Kenneth Branagh’s Wallander attests, so it’s with optimism that we receive The Tunnel, the English/French language take on Danish/Swedish hybrid The Bridge.
TV producers must have been waiting for a plot like this to come along, so much so that they must have been kicking themselves that someone further north thought of the premise first – a chance to use the channel tunnel as a plot device. Almost immediately we can see that The Tunnel isn’t going to stray too far from its source material as the screen is bathed in a lovely sepia tone. A maintenance worker on our connection between England and France discovers a body placed exactly upon the divide between French and English waters. Two teams of police, one from each side of the ocean, arrive and do a little bit of squabbling over just who should have jurisdiction over the body.
Clemence Poesy (most recognisable to readers of Den of Geek as Fleur Delacour in a few of the Harry Potter movies) and Stephen Dillane (most recognisable as Game of Thrones’ Stannis Barratheon) head up each team respectably as investigators Elise and Karl. Their first encounter at the border sets the tone for their upcoming working relationship. The Tunnel has some nice moments of humour derived from the French and British preconceived notions of each other. Upon the arrival of the English Police force, one of the French team sarcastically tells their colleague “Don’t worry, they all speak French now”, a riff on the lazy notion that Brits abroad don’t ever feel the need to bother with another language.
The humour in The Tunnel though is largely extended through Dillane’s Karl Roebuck. He is a joker, or “clown” as Elise refers to him later but he needs to have a sense of humour if he’s going to work with someone like Elise. Now, working in I.T., I come across my fair share of people whose social skills are a little lacking, but Elise is a character who takes this to the extreme. She sees everything in black and white and very literally. When Karl tries to diffuse the tension of their first meeting with the joke “No one’s trying to start a war, Joan”, she matter of factly replies “My name’s not Joan”. She has an unfortunate manner, some might say, but one that completely disarms most people she comes into contact with.
Much of The Tunnel’s first hour is spent introducing us to our lead detectives. We see the juxtaposition of their lives as Elise lives alone with her case files and Karl at home with his wife and five kids by three different mothers. When he tells Elise of this, she dryly tells him that his recent vasectomy was “a good idea then”. The chemistry between Dillane and Poesy comes together really well through out this episode and that’s a good job because if The Tunnel is going to follow The Bridge as closely as this episode indicates it will, then the relationship between Elise and Karl will be one of the bedrocks of the show.
Both the leads are likeable, more so than they were in The Bridge, and Poesy especially a captivating presence on screen. It’s surprising to hear that she didn’t watch Sofia Helin’s terrific portrayal of Saga Noren in The Bridge before playing Elise, so well observed her performance appears.
The pair are forced into their reluctant alliance when the body comes apart upon being moved. The top half belongs to a French MP, Marie Villeneuve, who had recently spoken out on immigration issues and after further investigation, the bottom half is traced to a British prostitute. Meanwhile The Tunnel introduces us to some of its shadier characters. Alain is a Frenchman with ties to Villeneuve judging by the threatening text messages on her phone sent from his wife, who fears for his life. He seems rather callous when, after helping him concoct a scheme to escape to the Bahamas, he tells his wife that he doesn’t love her anymore. Maybe it’s for her own good though.
Shadier still is people smuggler/pimp Steven who helps young women into the country and in turn, the UK sex trade. The bottom half of the body found in the tunnel belongs to one of his employees, we think. The themes of immigration and using of people already seem as though they’re going to be key to the unfolding story of The Tunnel.
Alain and Steven don’t get much past an introduction and a quick tie into the story with so much focus on Elise and Karl in this opener. With little to go on, the perpetrator of the tunnel body makes contact via trapping loathsome journalist Danny Hillier in his car with a bomb. Hillier is lavishly played by Tom Bateman, and is a bit of an egotist, brought down a peg or two by this little demonstration, staged so the perp can get the Police’s full attention. It’s a decently tense scene to end the episode and has the antagonist delivering a scary message that this is only the beginning via a spooky, Scream–style voice changer. It seems like a cliché but it works.
The Tunnel’s debut is well paced and a gripping hour. This may seem like a silly thing to say about a programme based on another recent programme, but it is The Bridge. Karl may be a touch lighter than Kim Bodnia’s Martin was, but Elise is Saga right down to the changing her shirt in the middle of the office scene. Whether the narrative sticks as rigidly to that of The Bridge in future episodes as it does in this one remains to be seen, but it does mean that fans of the original will have found this episode maybe a tad familiar. But then, The Bridge was a fantastic show with great characters, so why change something for a remake that has worked so well?
For those coming to the story fresh, I can imagine that once the haunting melodies of closing credits titles began to play, you’d already decided you were in this for the long haul. Indications are that it’s going to be well worth it.
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