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June 2016

The Tunnel series 1 and 2

cast: Stephen Dillane, Clemence Poesy, Cedric Vieira, Joseph Mawle, and James Frain

810 minutes (15) 2013/6
widescreen ratio 16:9
Acorn DVD Region 2

RATING: 6/10
review by Christopher Geary

The Tunnel - series one and two

"How much is enough, anyway, to show we care?" With class warfare hissing like a gas leak in the background of immigration paranoia, a corpse is discovered exactly on the borderline between UK and France in a maintenance lane of the Channel Tunnel. Jurisdiction for the subsequent murder investigation is granted initially to the French cops, until when the body's moved by a forensic team and the bottom half remains (a politically-hot keyword in this year of Brexit!) on the British side. A further plot-twist over identifying the victims (there are two, not one) results in Anglo-French co-operation between the quirky detectives Karl (Stephen Dillane) and Elise (Clemence Poesy). The veteran Brit-cop is a humorously concerned family man, while his rather unhappy partner on this tricky and increasingly complex case, is younger, and coldly aloof, and quasi-obsessive, but sharp as a whiplash.

A remake of Scandinavian TV noir The Bridge (2011), The Tunnel (2013) also offers a cleverly composed serial drama with an equally powerful metaphor of international connection in its use of the Channel Tunnel, in place of the road and rail bridge in the original Danish/ Swedish series. While shuttling between Folkestone and Calais, this TV rewrite deals with a scathing critique of social injustice and there are culture-clash moments and several amusing disagreements in the partnership's meeting-of-minds for Karl and Elise. The unsettling atmosphere focuses upon savvy yet impotent trans-Euro authorities struggling to match fragile wits with a genius of super-villainy. There is hand-wringing sarcasm that rubs up against the shrugging shoulders of an equally bitter cynicism.

Hunting a 'truth terrorist' (TT) who enjoys the media spot-light proves difficult when the serial killer usually appears three steps ahead of pursuing police, and so manages to poison some pensioners with extreme malice, while he still claims to score a point about society being indifferent to the suffering of sacrificial victims. The exercises in vigilantism disguised as rebellion engages with Euro security forces in an "escalating campaign of violence." However, soap opera betrayals weaken/ dilute these intrigues whether criminal or political, adding many needless sub-plots and much confusion to some acutely moral dilemmas that provoke flash-mobs, but only reveal the unhinged underbelly of our supposed civilisation.

Certain lethal games concocted by TT are vaguely reminiscent of some blood-chilling challenges faced by captives in the Saw movie franchise, and life-or-death problems dramatised in a more comicbook style by the confrontational actions of the Joker, in The Dark Knight, and Bane, in The Dark Knight Rises. Of course, the anonymity and blatantly manipulative scheming by TT harks back to mystery cinema's primal super-villain, Dr Mabuse, in the classic films directed by Fritz Lang. However, The Tunnel never really bothers to capitalise upon all this potential for comicbook thrills. Bombings and violent kidnappings are incidental to expansively scary conspiracy thrills, apparently centred on self-destructive revenge for loss, neglect, and abandonment.

This year's sequel series The Tunnel: Sabotage continues the breakthrough in dual-language/ bi-lingual telly, and makes its comeback, three years later, for stars Dillane and Poesy, stuck together in a policier wherein cockneys know rhyming slang "and yet they can't speak French." Karl is coaxed back to CID, Elise still struggles with the concept of social graces, and even discretion taxes her nous, despite her brilliance at criminal analysis. The authority of command hardly suits a frequently baffled Elsie because she has precious little potential for leadership.

There's another kidnapping in the Channel Tunnel. A flight to Paris goes down in the sea, and it's revealed that the plane crash was forced by remote control in a shocking plot by techno mercenaries not terrorists. A daylight shooting-spree clocks in as one of the darkest homicidal sequences in recent TV. The baddies' attack upon a French police station is just as gritty, especially when it becomes a siege. Karl's broken family life collapses into cheap 'n' cheesy melodrama that undermines his character almost completely, leaving TV soap-stains on this cop-show scenario that he's a central part of.

A road accident, shot from inside the victim's car brings further energetic shock to an otherwise ordinary driving sequence. The 'bring out your dead' cliff-hanger ending to an episode shifts the plot into a serial-killer's staged event blended with frightening bio-terrorism. Rather sadly, however, this show remains too kitchen-sink for a truly gripping thriller series, which demands something else genuinely larger-than-life. Its obvious lack of a Hollywood slickness means the pace of its unfolding story and the development of its characters have a pragmatic tendency for budget-conscious atmospheric settings that are chosen at the expense of traditional action sequences which formed the standard/ template (see everything from British classic The Professionals to American TV's 24) for spectacular urban entertainments, ever since the heydays of Lang and Hitchcock.

In the end, the ambition of The Tunnel's risky cross-Channel thriller aspect fails to leap far enough to clear a figurative roof-top gap, and so this otherwise enjoyable TV series just falls to its metaphoric stunt death in the alley of mere averageness below.

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