The Tunnel: Scandi noir takes on an Anglo-French aspect
‘The Tunnel’, a remake of Danish-Swedish murder drama ‘The Bridge’, begins with a dead body being found half in England, half in France
The latest series from Sky’s beefed-up drama department tests whether any TV remake can hope to capture that grey-sky bleakness that makes Scandi crime drama so compelling.
We have already been there with the successful BBC version of Wallander, the Swedish TV series based on Henning Mankell’s novels, and more recently with the US remake of The Killing, which succeeded in borrowing the plot but not the tension or atmosphere of the ground-breaking Danish original.
Now we have The Tunnel, a remake of Broen/Bron (The Bridge), the Danish-Swedish thriller that aired on BBC Four last year. Broen/Bron is critically acclaimed and a ratings success in the Nordic countries, where a second series has already been shown.
In the original series, the central, clever idea is that, after a dismembered body is found on the bridge that joins Denmark and Sweden, the crime must be investigated by both police forces.
Each has different cultural ideas, attitudes and a historic mistrust of each other, but they have to find a way to work together.
The Sky version is a co-production with French network Canal Plus. This time, the body of a woman is found in the Eurotunnel, halfway between France and England. Half of her body is in each country.
Both police forces are called in and a discovery at the crime scene dictates that the two must work together.
Here comes les rosbifs, remarks a French gendarme to her boss, detective Elise Wassermann (Clémence Poésy) as the British detective Karl Roebuck (Stephen Dillane) approaches. He rolls his eyes, equally non-plussed at the thought of the encounter, and so the antagonism between the two lead detectives is established early.
As the plot unfolds – viewers of the original will already know it – the two hunt down a serial killer who appears to have a political agenda.
First drama in the tunnel
It’s the first time a drama has been filmed in the tunnel. The location proved a challenge for the production team, which involved a cast and crew of more than 100 people, most of whom didn’t speak each other’s language.
“Filming there is more difficult than filming in an airport,” says producer Ruth Kenley-Letts. “Security is so tight that everyone had to be checked, fingerprinted and photographed. The caterers had to be at the tunnel at 1.30am to get their trucks through X-ray [machines] so that the cast and crew would have their breakfast at 6am.”
The Bridge has such a compelling crime plot, coupled with a nuanced political and cultural dimension, that it has already had one remake. The FX network in the US picked up the franchise and last year made a version also called The Bridge. That 13-episode series is set on the bridge that joins Mexico with the US. It stars Diane Kruger as a Texan cop in El Paso and Demián Bichir as her Mexican opposite number in the Chihuahua police department.
Although it got positive reviews, some critics had an issue with Kruger’s character. In the first series of the original Danish-Swedish show, it slowly emerges, through a magnetic performance by Sofia Helin as the Swedish detective Saga Noren, that her character has Asperger’s Syndrome.
The character Kruger plays – Sonya Cross – also has Asperger’s, but some US critics complained that the script should have explicitly told the viewer of her condition as a clear explanation for the character’s erratic behaviour. Despite the criticism, the show has been a hit and has been commissioned for a second series.
Breaking new ground
The Tunnel is breaking new ground as the first French- English bilingual TV drama.
The Tunnel is being shown with the appropriate subtitles in each country, which might add a nuance to the drama that was missing from the BBC Four broadcast of the original. The actors on screen spoke Danish and Swedish but the subtitles were all in English, meaning the clash of languages and cultures wasn’t always obvious.
“Watching it with subtitles is very important,” says Poésy, who plays a French detective.
At the London launch of the series earlier this month she grimaced as she recounted having to record a dubbed version for the French broadcast.
“There are two versions made for France, so it can be shown both dubbed and with subtitles, but you must watch it with subtitles,” says the actor, who speaks both languages fluently. That’s how Sky Atlantic is showing it.
This is the first of several collaborations by Sky as the broadcaster seeks to up its output of original drama, which is expensive to make.
Later this month comes Dracula, a 10-part co-production with NBC, to be shown here on Sky Living. The glossy historical romp – Dangerous Liasions with fangs – stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Victoria Smurfit and Oliver Jackson-Cohen.
The Tunnel is on Sky Altlantic on Wednesdays