Baptiste: A persuasive Fiona Shaw is front and centre of this brooding – and sometimes confusing – thriller

TV: Given the choice between being confusing or predictable, Baptiste will opt for the former all day long

Baptiste: Fiona Shaw as Emma Chambers. Photograph: Des Willie/Two Brothers/BBC

Baptiste: Fiona Shaw as Emma Chambers. Photograph: Des Willie/Two Brothers/BBC

 

She was hardly languishing in obscurity, but a starring role in Killing Eve has done Fiona Shaw the world of good. Through much of her life on screen, the Cork actor’s background in theatre had steered her towards worthy and often forbidding parts. The B-movie archness of Killing Eve proved the perfect receptacle for her talents and has given her career a welcome and unexpected infusion of pizzazz.

As with Killing Eve, Shaw is front and centre of season two of Baptiste (BBC One, Sunday), a nutritious if occasionally glum Eurothriller in which she plays a diplomat whose family has mystifyingly vanished while on holiday. This sounds like a case for Julien Baptiste (Tchéky Karyo), heir to the Hercule Poirot crown of francophone detectives who work in confounding ways yet always gets their man, woman or inanimate object.

Alas, the mystery of Emma Chambers (Shaw) and her snatched loved-ones is knotty even by Baptiste’s standards. Chambers, British ambassador to Hungary, is on a retreat with her husband and two sons in a forest resort outside Budapest.

A reasonably jolly time is being had, although there is the shadow of a dead or missing child – details are initially murky – not to mention a trauma that has left their youngest unable to communicate except via his mobile phone.

Then Emma wakes to find the rest of her family has disappeared. Entered a morose Baptiste, still processing the fallout from series one (in which he discovered the murderer of an old flame was the secret son she’d never told him about).

Baptiste may be a BBC production, but it takes its cues from the Eurothriller tradition. Which is another way of saying that, given the choice between being confusing or predictable, it will opt for the former all day long.

This is made clear early in part one, as the action pings across separate timelines. In the first Baptiste has just arrived in Hungary and is helping Emma find her family. Ten months later Julien and Emma are reunited when she arrives on his doorstep. There’s a twist: Emma has driven to Baptiste’s with a potential suspect in the case locked in her boot.

As the story unfolds it emerges that far-right thugs may have had a hand in the abductions. And that, although Emma’s husband is dead – it takes Baptiste all of 10 minutes to locate the body in the woods near their hotel – there is still a chance for her sons.

Shaw and Karyo make for a persuasive double act. She isn’t quite giving it the full Killing Eve. But it’s nonetheless a heightened turn, which chimes well with Karyo’s Scandi-noir brooding.

A word of caution, though: with the entirety of Baptiste already released on BBC iPlayer, the internet is brimming with spoilers. (Apparently there’s a pretty massive twist to come.) With iPlayer unavailable in Ireland, we’ll have to get through it week by week. But that isn’t a huge impediment. This is an atmospheric slow-burner, suffused in stylised Eurogloom and with a commanding two-hander performance by a duo of veterans who embrace the hokey solemnity with relish.

Baptiste continues on BBC One on Sunday at 9pm

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