Dead Beautiful starring Thierry Godard

Dead Beautiful episode 1

Beauty and the beast: a serial killer is on the loose

French cop procedural with good storytelling and a chilling case

★★★½

All 4, from Friday, 4 August 

DEAD BEAUTIFUL is the latest foreign-language crime series to hit ALL 4’S Walter Presents strand. This has offered some terrific offbeat foreign dramas since its launch in January last year. From Deutschland 83 to The Swingers, the quirky best of Norway, France, Mexico, Switzerland and other countries have been sifted for some minor gems.

Dead Beautiful, a French series, is decent enough, but not particularly special. It’s a police procedural of the type Britain already produces in abundance – from Endeavour to Grantchester and on and on.

It is chock-full of the usual plot suspects – dead women, a crumpled detective, forensics, where were you on the night of the 14th?

Thierry Godard as Martin

What it has got is an intriguing opening story about a serial killer. Each episode is a separate case and if they all have as many twists and gasps as this one, the series should satisfy many crime fans. The stories are based on a successful series of books  by Alexis Lecave, who is also the screenwriter here.

Thierry Godard in Dead Beautiful

Complicated love life: Thierry Godard as detective Martin

In addition it has Thierry Godard. He is a much in-demand French star with more than 50 films on his CV. He should be familiar to BBC4 fans of Spiral, in which he played Gilou. Here he steps up from the cast to lead star as detective Martin, on the trail of a nasty killer who targets women with a crossbow.

The murderer selects his victims from lonely-hearts columns, always seeking women with light eyes and chestnut-coloured hair.

The stakes are high for Martin and his team. At times the hunt for the elusive killer feels like an adrenalin-fuelled evening at a top online casino.

Dead Beautiful’s plot twists and good characters

There are nine 100-minute episodes. This allows the makers to flesh out the characters and move beyond the procedural stuff, which in many series can get boring.

So we get an insight into Martin’s complicated love life – lovers include a colleague, a journalist, and his ex-wife, who he is still sleeping with – and his relationship with his fiery actress daughter.

Summer is the season of repeats and dud shows that can’t usually be placed anywhere else in the schedules during other times of the year. Dead Beautiful should help filled the dog days.

Case, Icelandic mystery on Channel 4

Case, Channel 4

In the dark – investigator Gabriela (Steinunn Ólína Þorsteinsdóttir)

Fans of foreign thrillers set in cold climates should check out this latest intrigue from Iceland

★★★½ Channel 4, Tuesday, 24 January, 10pm

FOR A PLACE that’s so off the beaten track and with such a tiny population (332,000), Iceland is certainly making its presence felt on the crime-thriller TV scene.

BBC4 gave us the brilliant Trapped last year, and now Channel 4 has this new series in its Walter Presents strand. It begins with the discovery of a teenage ballet student who is found hanged on the stage of a dance school in Reykjavik.

In a multi-stranded story we meet the unglamorous cop partners Gabriela and Hogni, the ladies’ man attorney Logi, who has a group of female punk types hacking for him, and a variety of characters from the young victim’s life.

The director of Trapped, Baldvin Zophoniasson, is on duty here, too. It’s a skilfully told and gritty mystery about abuse, corruption and scandal. It was a huge hit in Iceland and has been acclaimed by the New York Times.

Case, Channel 4

Young and innocent? Julius and Elfa

The Passenger, All 4

All 4 The Passenger

Detectives mus take the bull by the horns in The Passenger

HAVING THE HORROR OVERTONES of True Detective series one, this new French series on All 4 looks a bit of a spine-tingler.

The naked body of a man wearing a bull’s head is discovered at the Gare de Bordeaux-St-Jean. It’s the work of a serial killer and first of a string of slaughters emulating Greek mythology.

The Passenger is based on a best-selling novel by Jean-Christophe Grangé, and stars Raphaëlle Agogué and Jean-Hugues Anglade.

Corporate cover-up

Captain Anaïs Châtelet teams up with forensic psychiatrist Matthias Freire to solve the case. They are sure it’s linked to a disturbing corporate cover up. Drenched in atmosphere and full of twists, the series looks a bit more edgy than Midsomer Murders.

Coming to the All 4 on-demand service as part of the Walter Presents strand, this launches on Friday, 2 December.

The Passenger All 4

Forensic psychiatrist Matthias Freire and Captain Anaïs Châtelet

Marseille series 2

Netflix crime drama Marseille was one of the most lavish TV series we’ve seen in many years. With heavy-hitting actors like Gerard Depardieu and a string of mob-related violence engulfing the tower blocks and casinos of the French city, it represented how serious the streaming service is about creating big-budget TV content.

Although the series suffered a few critical misgivings, it was a highly watchable show that’s been given the go-ahead for a second series.

Marseille focused on a slightly corrupt mayor Robert Taro, excellently portrayed by veteran actor Depardieu. It showed him trying to overcome political infighting, family troubles and the gangs of Marseille.

Inter-racial romance

The central theme of series one was how the mayor tried to establish a legal casino in the old port as a way of countering growing mob-related activities. And such is the popularity of gaming websites like Lucky Nugget Casino, which enables players to get a big win via their online pokies games, that it illustrated how prescient the makers of Marseille were in the creation of this extravagant series.

Netflix series Marseille with Gerard Depardieu

Port of call: the cast of Marseille

Other topical themes were the explorations of inter-racial romance, as well as its endemic drug culture. But it was the expansive cinematography of Marseille that was perhaps its trademark. The luxurious coastline was depicted showing a dramatic contrast with the decrepit tower blocks that form the core of the series’ criminal activity.

Braquo and Spiral

Perhaps what caused some critical misgivings was the success of other recent French crime series. Marseilles lacked the firepower of the Canal+ series Braquo. It also didn’t come close to the psychological complexity of the excellent Spiral series, also due to make a welcome return.

But regardless of the negative critical reception, it’s expected Marseilles 2 won’t hold back in its portrayal of the underworld in this complex city.

Whether it sees Depardieu’s character again attempting to provide online pokies fans with a real-life casino, or whether his villainous rival, Lucas Barres, makes another bid for power, remains to be seen. But whatever happens, it’s sure to look great and be entertaining.

No Limit, new Luc Besson thriller

No Limit

Big shot – Vincent Elbaz as Libérati

It’s all action in this French Riviera-set thriller

★★★ All4, from Friday, 5 August

JUST AS Jason Bourne is tearing up screens at the multiplexes, along comes this French TV actioner hoping to do the same in our living rooms.

It joins the foreign legion of dramas under the Walter Presents flag, part of All4’s on-demand service.

Created by Luc Besson, who showed his flair for penning action spectacles with Nikita and Leon, alongside Franck Philippon, ditto with Sky Atlantic’s The Tunnel, No Limit clearly will be light on emotions and introspection.

Vincent Elbaz as Libérati

Springing into action – the man on a mission

Springing into action – the man on a mission

In fact, it’s a strangely old-fashioned show, or perhaps it’s consciously retro, utilising split screens, some breezy banter between the mayhem and a title sequence featuring scuba-diving, jumping off buildings and the like. Anyone have fond memories of Airwolf or Knight Rider?

The twist in the premise is that our hero, Vincent Libérati (Vincent Elbaz), is having treatment for a brain tumor. He wants to abandon the James Bond lifestyle to look after his cheeky 16-year-old daughter.

But wouldn’t you know it? In order to receive some experimental medical treatment he has to agree to join a confidential crime-fighting group.

French Riviera setting

No Limit on All4

Rush hour for Vincent

The opening episode sees him tangling with arms dealers, having punch-ups and cracking safes.

No Limit is unlikely to linger long in your mind, but if you feel like vegging out in front of an hour of smash-bang-wallop with a French Riviera backdrop, there are 22 episodes coming up.

10, All4’s gripping crime drama

10 - Clara Pestalozzi

Spy game – Clara is one of the surveillance team

The stakes couldn’t be higher in this Swiss thriller combining crime and poker

★★★½ All4, currently available on-demand at Walter Presents (All4)

10_boxset_440x600WALTER PRESENTS is the video-on-demand service of Channel 4’s sister network All4, which launched in January. You may have seen plugs for some of its off-kilter and risqué foreign crime dramas, including The Out-Laws (Belgium), The Hunter (France) and Locked Up (Spain).

10 - Vincent Torrella (1)

Strong hand? Vincent reflects on his risky plan

Among them is a particular fave of mine, the Swiss drama 10. It’s a thriller set at a poker game, resulting in a multilayered story combining action round the table and behind the scenes.

On New Year’s Eve, croupier Vincent Torrella (Jérôme Robart) welcomes a disparate group of high-stakes poker players to a secret game in Geneva. It’s a twist on the country-house murder mystery with characters locked together in a setting. As the drama unfolds, we realise there’s a lot more than half-a-million francs at stake.

The crook, the hoodie and the ex-lover

Through flashbacks we get a glimpse into the players: including the bullying crook; Vincent’s stuttering brother, Manuel, and Manuel’s lover; the mystery man in hoodie and shades; the older woman; a Chinese diplomat; plus an police undercover officer.

Directed by Jean-Laurent Chautems and written by Christophe Marzal and Christian François, this is a cool, atmospheric slice of noir.

The episodes are half an hour long, just enough time for a major surprise to be sprung in each instalment. There’s plenty of intrigue and even a little romance as the poker action proceeds.

Secret eyes watching the game

10 - Surveillance Cam

All-in – The players on CCTV

Thousands of viewers will have experience of poker and gaming at online casinos with sites such as www.toponlinecasinos.co.uk and many who settle down to 10 will be familiar with Texas Hold’em. But you won’t need to be an expert to understand what’s going on as the characters attempt to outplay and bluff each other to win that half-a-million franc pot.

In the meantime, there are many intrigues to unravel. Why is one of the women playing so recklessly by repeatedly going all-in? Will Vincent retrieve the prize money when he loses it down a ventilator shaft?

And with secret eyes watching proceedings and a police officers’ party in progress on a different floor in the same building, will the players hold their nerve throughout the night?

Like the game itself, the drama is compelling, with its themes of surveillance, poker action and personal conspiracies.

 

Gomorrah 2, Sky Atlantic

GOMORRAH - Series 2, Episode 12

See Naples and die – Marco D’Amore as Ciro

The Glocks are out for a revenge-fuelled return of the Neapolitan mob fest 

★★★ Sky Atlantic, Wednesdays, 9pm

ALONG WITH the Renaissance and tragic opera, another great Italian art form is the blood feud. And the Neapolitan Camorra has explored the dark side of the human condition through internecine vendettas as well as anyone.

GOMORRAH - Series 2, Episode 3

New alliances – clan leaders divvy up the Savastano empire

The gruesome finale of the first season of Gomorrah, which is based on Roberto Saviano’s non-fiction bestseller about the Neapolitan mob, was spectacularly bloody, with Imma, matriarch of the Savastano clan, murdered, her son Genny betrayed and shot by Ciro at his own daughter’s recital, and generations of soldiers on both sides wiped out.

Series two plunges us straight back into the mayhem. Wounded Genny on a gurney, his father Don Pietro busted out of prison looking for revenge, Ciro’s wife terrified of assassination and Ciro now desperately forming an alliance with Don Pietro’s old enemy Salvatore Conte.

Got it? Basically, no one trusts anyone.

Marco D’Amore as Ciro

Part of the fascination of this gritty, grimy series is why anyone bothers with the Camorra way of life. Yes, there are riches to be had, but you can’t turn your back on your best friend for a minute. Get to the top and you’ll probably end up living in an underground hovel hiding from every law enforcement agency in Italy.

GOMORRA - Series 2, Episode 1

Allies – Ciro and Salvatore

This is a fictionalised take on Saviano‘s eye-opening book, which is shocking in its depiction of the industrial scale of the mob’s operations. The series reduces the narrative to gang level, but it is still a fascinating portrait of depraved morals and warped loyalties.

The backdrop to events is once again the concrete housing hell of Vele di Scampia, a fortress of deprivation and criminality, and the series has an air of authenticity, with characters speaking the Neapolitan dialect barely understood by the rest of Italy.

Marco D’Amore once again leads the story as Ciro, but there seems to be an attempt to thrust some female characters into proceedings, with Ciro’s wife Debora featuring more prominently, among others.

Episodes 5 and 6 are coming up this week. Hang onto your armchairs…

Wallander (Swedish) — Killer TV No 22

6151516-low_res-wallander-swedishTV4, 2005-2013

‘Good cops allow themselves to be ground down. The job absorbs them.’ – Kurt Wallander

Krister Henriksson, Mats Bergman, Angela Kovacs, Johanna Sällström, Charlotta Jonsson

Identikit: Kurt Wallander, a police inspector and detective in Ystad, Sweden, balances his harrowing caseload with his troubled private life, including a tempestuous relationship with his daughter, Linda.


logosSWEDISH TELEVISION made 26 episodes of stories adapted from Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander novels, all of which starred Kirster Henriksson. Where Kenneth Branagh was subdued and thoughtful, bordering on glum, in the BBC version, Henriksson portrayed a more rounded character who, though trapped somewhat  by his police career, could reach out to those close to him. Henriksson is the definitive Wallander to many, but he came to the part only after the bear-like Rolf Lassgård had made a series of Wallander films (1994-2007). But Henriksson’s understated, approachable Wallander is a good balance between Lassgård’s irascible portrayal and Kenneth Branagh’s ultra-glum version. Henriksson’s very first story in the TV series, Before the Frost, saw the detective uncovering a dangerous religious cult headed by a sadistic killer, while also struggling to make up for his failures as a father to his daughter, Linda (Johanna Sällström), newly qualified as a police officer herself. This was an absorbing drama, beautifully mixing the personal stories with an investigation into tragic and horrific events. The two 13-part series openers – The Revenge opened season 2 – were released in cinemas in Sweden and were better than the mid-season episodes, which were less carefully crafted and a bit more predictable. A third and final season (six 90-minute films), featuring Charlotta Jonsson as Linda Wallander, aired in 2013.

Classic episode: Before the Frost was the TV series’ first episode and a compelling mix of tragedy. Kurt is on the trail of a poisonous cult leader, and the detective’s painfully tangled personal life, particularly in his uncomfortable relationship with his daughter, Linda, is to the fore. A gripping debut and definitely one of the best of the 32 episodes.

Watercooler fact: Henning Mankell was so deeply affected by the death of Johanna Sällström, aged 32, who suffered from depression and had narrowly survived the 2004 tsunami in Thailand with her daughter, that he was unable to write the last two novels of a planned trilogy about Linda Wallander.

%d bloggers like this: