There can only be one word to sum up how I feel after watching episode one of The Tunnel, and that is “WOW”. I actually had to stand up and walk about for a bit, because after being glued to my screen for an hour, I needed to remind my limbs that I was capable of independent movement, and it also gave my heart time to slow down and return to normal. I’m fairly obsessive about TV shows I like, but it’s really not often that one grabs me by the throat quite as efficiently and brilliantly as this.
But where to start? Everything about this Anglo-French collaboration screams quality, from the creepy opening titles (with a theme song performed by none other than Charlotte Gainsbourg) to the tight, taut story. It all kicks off – literally and figuratively – with the oogy discovery of a woman’s body at the half-way point between France and the UK in the Channel Tunnel, and while the French authorities immediately swoop to investigate, their British counterparts aren’t far behind. In the Bleu corner is Clémence Poésy, whose character Elise is either borderline Asperger’s or possibly just the rudest French person to draw breath, while representin’ the White Cliffs is Karl, played by Stephen Dillane. He’s delighted when he’s told he can shuffle off back to bed, as the victim is quickly identified as a prominent, if controversial, French politician.
He’s just about to leave when things take a turn for the seriously twisted: the body isn’t one woman, but two. Both have been cut in half at the waist and artfully placed together. So, now it’s everybody’s problem. (Interestingly, while the British police can barely muster a word of French between them, their new colleagues have no problem rabbiting on in English, especially Elise, who is word-perfect. Are you paying attention, Michael Gove?)
But back to the plot. It emerges the Rosbifs were a bit rubbish when investigating the disappearance of a Welsh prostitute, whose bottom half has been teamed with the politician’s torso, but the big question is: where are the rest of the two women’s remains? There’s no time to answer that particular query, because the killer then informs all and sundry that he has five ‘truths’ to impart to the world, and you just know it’s not going to be pretty. Enter sleazy, amoral tabloid columnist Danny Hillier, who can only be separated from pond scum by his ability to use a computer. The murderer targets him by locking him in his fancy 4×4 and switching on what looks like a bomb. As the seconds tick down, the arrogant journalist is quickly reduced to a snivelling wreck, but when the timer hits zero… nothing happens. NOW the killer has Hillier’s attention – and a handy mouthpiece.
The Tunnel is every bit as good as I’d hoped and more – it’s deliciously dark and twisted, with creepy characters and diverting sub-plots aplenty, but there’s also enough wit to prevent the whole thing from becoming overbearing. Dillane is, as always, impeccable, yet for me, the real revelation is Poésy. Her Elise at first appears dead-eyed and emotionless, but I’d bet the farm that there’s a lot more going on below the surface. For that, and a million other reasons, I’ll be front and centre of the TV next week, waiting to soak up part two.
Contributed by Scheenagh Harrington
The Tunnel Continues Wednesday’s at 9.00pm on Sky Atlantic.