The Tunnel: Episode 1

The TunnelWhat appears to be a dead woman’s body is found straddling the mid-point of the Channel Tunnel, initiating an uneasy alliance between English detective Karl Roebuck and his French counterpart Elise Wassermann.

More détente than entente cordiale

A dead body, sliced in half, is discovered placed exactly across the dividing line between the English and French sections of the Channel Tunnel. At first, the corpse appears to be controversial French politician Marie Villeneuve. However, it is quickly discovered that the bottom half belongs to Gemma Kirwan, a Welsh prostitute who went missing seven months previously.

French investigator Elise Wassermann (Clémence Poésy) and English detective Karl Roebuck (Game of ThronesStephen Dillane) are forced to work together on the case.

The pair are distinctly different characters. Elise is single, asocial and intense – she makes Homeland‘s Carrie Mathison look laid-back. Karl, the son of a Communist miner, is more easygoing – with five children from three different mothers, he’s recovering from a recent vasectomy.

Their clashing personalities cause rising tensions on several fronts: initially over jurisdiction, then over Roebuck’s English sense of humour and finally over the handling of Charlotte, the wife of leading financier Alain Joubert, who sent Villeneuve a threatening text message.

We’re also briefly introduced to social worker Stephen, who seems to have an almost unhealthy interest in helping vulnerable women, and to tabloid hack Danny Hillier, whose car and mobile are linked to the killings. Hillier ignores a voice-distorted tip-off about the Tunnel murders, in return for which he is locked in his own car with a ticking time-bomb which turns out to be fake.

There’s a clinical killer on the loose, and one who will stop at nothing to get the world’s attention. But what story is it that they want heard?

A cutting start, an explosive finish (well, almost)

This joint production between Sky and Canal+ is based on Swedish/Danish co-production The Bridge, first shown in the UK on BBC4 last year. As far as this first episode goes, this version stays faithful to the original.

The story packs a punch at both ends. The cold open grabs the attention in style, layering on one chill after another. First there is the discovery of the precisely positioned body. Then, when it is moved, the revelation that it has been sawn precisely in half. And finally, in the autopsy room, we learn that not only have both halves been clinically disembowelled for clean transport but that they belong to two different women.

And the final sequence with Hillier trapped in a bomb in his own car, soiling himself while Elise cold-bloodedly interrogates him, builds deftly to a heart-thumping crescendo, even though as a viewer we’re confident it’s all an elaborate fake.

In between, it’s all very talky but no less compelling. The yin and yang of the reluctant partnership between the British and French leads is afforded plenty of time to gestate – and no small amount of light-hearted prodding at cultural differences between the two nations. Character and plot exposition is flung at the viewer from all directions: there’s so much detail filled in about Karl’s family history that you just know there’s something crucial there – but what?

There’s a clear implication that this is more than a simple double murder – actually, triple murder – with an echoing theme of immigration on both sides of the Channel and a clinically meticulous approach to the killings which suggests that nothing is random or left to chance.

For now we’re presented with nothing more than the faintest trail of breadcrumbs. Hopefully we’ll be given just enough to keep us both hooked and mystified over the coming weeks. I’ll be back after the final episode for an overall review.

Best line

Steady on, Joan, I’m not looking for a war over it.

Roebuck’s oblique reference to Joan of Arc is wasted on Wassermann.

Rating: 8/10

The Tunnel continues on Sky Atlantic on Wednesdays at 9pm.

2 Comments on The Tunnel: Episode 1

  1. Although I saw The Bridge earlier this year, the talent on board this adaptation will keep me watching.

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