Preview: The Tunnel (Tunnel) (UK: Sky Atlantic; France: Canal+)

Swedish-Danish culture clash comes to La Manche


In the UK: Wednesdays, 9pm, Sky Atlantic. Starts 16th October
In France: Canal+. Starts in November

Well, here we are again, on a border, two dead women’s bodies cut in half and stuck together, two different police forces from two different countries having to investigate the crimes, and resolve their personal and cultural differences. 

The Swedish-Danish co-production Bron/Broen – known in the UK as The Bridge – was a big success in both countries, one of BBC4’s biggest successes of 2012 and has taken the rest of the world by storm, too. Given the story involved co-operation between two countries’ police forces, it was always a natural for remakes, too.

We’ve already seen one example of such a remake in the US: The Bridge, which sees a US and a Mexican investigator pairing come together to solve a crime on the exact border of the US and Mexico. In some ways an almost exact duplicate, in others an improvement, but overall a blander dilution of the original, it’s been renewed for a second season.

Chances are, we probably won’t see it in the UK for a while, though, because the rights have already been acquired by the makers of a new Sky Atlantic/Canal+ co-production, The Tunnel. Yes, this time there’s been a murder but because there’s no bridge to France, it’s all happening underground in the Channel Tunnel.

Starring Stephen Dillane (Game of Thrones, Hunted, The One Game) and Clemence Poésy (Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire), The Tunnel is once against an almost exact replica of that original show, but surprisingly enough, there are still a few things the format can offer that we haven’t seen before. Here are some trailers.

About
​A body is found across the exact point where France meets the UK. Whose job is it to investigate? And what issues about modern Europe will they uncover along the way?

Is it any good?
By now, it’s getting a little hard for me to tell if each of these different adaptations of Bron/Broen are any good in their own right or not. But I’ll give it a go.

Certainly, this first episode goes through most of the same motions as both the original and the US remake. Same discovery, same initial squabble over jurisdiction, same discovery that both sides have jurisdiction, same tabloid journalist with a bomb in his car, same woman who loves her husband more than he loves her, a man who helps women with their problems, and so on.

True, there are minor differences in the scenario caused by the fact this is a train tunnel, not a car bridge: the body is found in a maintenance tunnel rather than on the tracks of the main tunnel, so there’s no public closing. As a result, woman-who-loves-her-husband-more-than-he-loves-her can’t rush him through in an ambulance as in the Swedish-Danish and US versions; instead, he’s elsewhere and she pops up later as a suspect, before being shown the same kindness by the male cop.

Intriguingly, the male cop is British and the female cop is French. Where the original worked so well was in its exploitation and subversion of national stereotypes: the icy, methodical Swede female cop shown to have Asperger’s; the lovable, personable Danish cop who turns out to be a compulsive womaniser. This didn’t quite work in the US version because the countries’ mutual stereotypes don’t quite map onto the Swedish-Danish stereotypes. 

Here, though, we have a warm, womanising Brit who bends the rules and a cold, uptight, inflexible Frenchwoman who certainly wouldn’t fit into either of Canal+’s other home-grown cop shows, Engrenages/Spiral and Braquo. The British stereotype used to explain this is that we’re all a humourous bunch, constantly joking, but with Dillane married to a black woman and having mixed-race children, this is essentially role reversal for the two nations and playing against type actually works well here, since it’s less a show about showing then undermining stereotypes than it is about demolishing them altogether. It’s certainly a choice that works better than the US’s.

As this is a British/French series, that has also forced changes on the show for the sake of realism. While Danish and Swedish aren’t that different (they’re almost different dialects of the same language, rather than two different languages, in some regards) so mutual near-fluency wasn’t a stretch, expecting the Brits all to be fluent in French would have been a stretch and expecting the French to speak English well only slightly less of a stretch – there is one fun joke at the beginning from the French cops about how “everyone in Britain speaks French now”, the British cops delivering a resounding “Parlez-vous anglais?” a few moments later, and when Dillane stops a French cop for directions in a police station, they both have to get by in a form of franglais.

Nevertheless, roughly half the show is in French, subtitled well (with the occasional liberté taken), with Poésy the bi-lingual character. Amusingly, whenever a French person speaks French, they’re subtitled, but Brits aren’t because the most they can manage to conjure up is “Bonjour”, “Moi, aussi” and “Comment allez-vous?”, so the audience can be assumed to understand what they mean.

The show is also more keen on character than the original. It’s adapted by Ben Richards, who was responsible for BBC2’s Party Animals (the show that launched Matt Smith’s career) as well as ITV’s The Fixer, and he fleshes out not only supporting characters but Dillane’s, too: Dillane’s father is a former miner and communist, and Dillane more philosophical and willing to expand to Poésy on the nature of policing and social skills. There are also more nuances to characters, such as the tabloid journalist, that make this more of a show about people, and there’s also plenty of funny, knowing moments, such as when Dillane’s character gets lost within the French roundabout system in Calais. 

Poésy, by contrast, is far more of a cipher. If she has Asperger’s rather than simply poor social skills, it’s not written that way or demonstrated in Poésy’s somewhat blank and cold performance. She gets the same car and a twin sister like Saga Norin; she even gets the same scenes, whether it’s stripping off her top in the police station or reporting Dillane for letting a suspect go. But unlike with Norin, there’s no hint that it’s because she doesn’t understand the social issues involved, only that she’s a stickler for the rules.

That isn’t to say that she won’t turn out to have the syndrome – indeed, the original show’s depiction was highly exaggerated so a toning down to a more plausible level for a character her age would be welcome – but it is making Poésy’s character far less of a force of nature, far less of an iconic character than Saga Norin and her leather trousers were. Perhaps it’s a good idea for the producers of The Tunnel not to try, since the US tried and failed quite considerably.

The show has tense and artistic direction, a good script, and a good cast. Dillane is tremendous. It’s just a shame less interest appears to have been paid to making the French side of things quite as strong. But let’s see what the next few episodes hold, since as with the other two versions, we’re promised a show that touches on important political issues. Let’s see what ones they choose.