Spiral series 5, Caroline Proust, Gregory Fitoussi, Thierry Godard, Audrey Fleurot PREVIEW

Herville (NICOLAS BRIANCON), Fromentin (FRED BIANCONI), Laure Berthaud (CAROLINE PROUST)
Spiralling out of control? Herville, Tintin and Laure. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★

BBC4: starts Saturday, 10 January, 9pm

Story: Following the death of Sami, Captain Laure Berthaud is trying to cope as best she can. But with her personal life a mess,  she receives some unexpected news and is then plunged into the investigation of a shocking double murder. 

THANK GOODNESS for BBC4’s Saturday night crime slot. It has transformed viewing habits in the UK, creating a passion for subtitled, high-quality Euro-crimers such as The Killing, The Bridge, Inspector Montalbano and the French contingent including Braquo and the even better Spiral.

Which returns tonight. The police drama is a cut above the norm with its superb interweaving of stories involving the detective squad under Captain Laure Berhaud – caught between the criminals and her own backstabbing bosses – and the machinations of the legal eagles, particularly the cynical Joséphine Karlsson.

It is a tough drama, full of hard-bitten cops and the realpolitik of the justice system. Series four even ventured into the realm of home-grown terrorism in France, a subject that became horrifically real this week.

Captain Berthaud’s hard-bitten boys

Back in the fictional world, Captain Berthaud is wilting a bit under all the pressure. She may be a female role model as she holds her crew of hard-nut cops together, but she’s no paragon. She makes mistakes, shoots suspects and slaps people around. Somehow, she usually just about gets a result.

Gilou (THIERRY GODARD), Laure Berthaud (CAROLINE PROUST)
Crime scene – Gilou and Laure

Not so in her personal relationships. As series five begins, she is in a bar picking up a stranger for some car sex. However, things don’t go as planned and Berthaud makes a shocking discovery about herself.

Her lieutenant Gilou tells her in his usual blunt way that she’s acting like a zombie. That’s when she’s not screaming at their colleague Tintin for having a plaque made commemorating their much missed colleague Sami, who died in series four.

Continued…

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Spiral — Killer TV No.40

Spiral cast for series 3
Law & order French-style

2005-present, Canal+

‘I’d have sold my soul if I had one.’ – Marchard
Caroline Proust, Grégory Fitoussi, Philippe Duclos, Thierry Godard, Fred Bianconi, Audrey Fleurot
Identikit: The Parisian police and judiciary tackle crime, while internally they are riven with mistakes, corruption and careerists.

logos

Spiral gets the nod ahead of Braquo on the basis that it is not quite as deranged as the latter. Its French title, Engrenages or gears/cogs, gives a flavour of what the series has been about in its four seasons (a fifth is being filmed). Like Law & Order, it delves into the workings of police and judiciary, but with an emphasis on the realpolitik of the legal profession and the dirty side policing. The focus is on police captain Laure Berthaud and her lieutenants, Gilou Escoffier and ‘Tintin’ Fromentin, along with Judge François Roban, prosecutor Pierre Clément and a lawyer, the glamorous and cynical Joséphine Karlsson. Laure and her team occasionally overstep the mark, using too much force or with the captain herself suspected of unlawfully shooting a suspect at the start of series 4, but they are always bound by mutual loyalty in the face of violent criminals and the incompetence and ambition of their superiors. This theme of self-serving venality carries over to the legal eagles, with Judge Roban having battles at the Palais de Justice with Prosecutor Marchard over various dodgy goings-on, and Karlsson involved in every shady opportunity to further her bank balance and her fame. Series 4 was probably the best, weaving together a gripping mix of political terrorism, police cock-ups, crime lords and snogging (Joséphine/Pierre, anarchists Sophie/Thomas, etc). The series are complex, sometimes convoluted and near silly, but Spiral‘s sophisticated characterisation and absorbing portrayal of the cynical law enforcement agencies makes it a must-see drama. A fifth series will arrive in 2014. 
Classic episode: The finale to series three had it all – the snog between Karlsson and Clément probably melted a few remote controls at home; Gilou stamping on Vlad’s balls before having an apparent heart-attack later on and making up with his boss, skipper Laure; heartbreak for Judge Roban and Isabelle; and Laure brutally killing the villain and avoiding a trial that could have exposed police procedural cock-ups, brutality, witnesses recompensed with coke and evidence fiddling. Gene Hunt would be proud.

Watercooler fact: Spiral has been a huge hit for Canal+, being sold in 70-odd countries, among them Mexico, Australia, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Italy and Croatia.

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Spiral 4: State of Terror, BBC4, starring Caroline Proust, PREVIEW

Fromentin (Fred Bianconi), Gilou (Thierry Godard) and Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust). Pic: BBC
Fromentin (Fred Bianconi), Gilou (Thierry Godard) and Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust). Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★½ 

BBC4: starts Saturday, 9 February,  

Story: Captain Laure Berthaud and her team discover an identified man who has been dumped in woods by a mystery couple. The body has been badly damaged.

Spiral was BBC4’s first French series, appearing in 2006 and winning a small but solid band of UK fans. Since then it’s become a huge export success, being shown in 70 countries, with Netflix in the US showing it last autumn.

Fromentin and Berthaud in Spiral 4
The heat is on for Fromentin and Berthaud

One advantage Spiral has over many UK dramas is that it’s not done on a shoestring and squeezed into as few episodes as possible. It’s a 12-parter, allowing the writers to knit multiple story strands together, involving the hard-bitten police personalities and their various mistakes, legal shenanigans and political corruption.

Series four throws down several juicy gauntlets in terms of plot for the coming weeks. A dead man is discovered in woods with no hands and other severe injuries. It appears he may have been handling a bomb, and leads could be pointing towards a terrorist cell for Captain Berthaud and her team.

Berthaud is a proper cop ‘because she has no kids or husband’
However, their investigation gets sidetracked as Berthaud has to attend a reconstruction of the incident in which she shot a suspect in the last series, with accounts of her actions being split between that given by her lieutenants, Fromentin and Gilou, and that of another officer who doesn’t back her. To add to the pressure, the squad has a new boss, Herville, who demands that his officers start hitting clear-up targets.

Herville is quite a creep, telling Berthaud that she’s a proper cop because she has no kids or husband, or any other sentimental rubbish. The sense of them and us – the hierarchy and the cops at the crime face – is one theme that Spiral always captures well.

Caroline Proust as Berthaud in Spiral 4
Captain Berthaud

Caroline Proust is pretty convincing again as the tough woman leading her rugged band of brothers. Berthaud is not as intriguing as Sarah Lund (The Killing) or bizarre as Sara Noren (The Bridge), but she still cuts it as a woman sacrificing way too much for the job.

Josephine Karlsson
The series sometimes stretches plausibility to breaking point, and occasionally the plotting between the police side of the drama and the legal side, with the lawyer Josephine Karlsson typically cutting some dodgy deals, has been disjointed.

Series two was probably the most unconvincing. Three was much better, and four looks promising. It’s good to have Berthaud and her team of stroppy men back fighting the crooks and their own bosses.

Cast: Caroline Proust Laure Berthaud, Gregory Fitoussi Pierre Clement, Fred Bianconi Fromentin, Thierry Godard Gilou, Audrey Fleurot Josephine Karlsson, Bruno Debrandt Commissaire Bremont, Jerome Huguet Thomas Riffaut, Judith Chemla Sophie Mazerat, Amandine Dewasmes Magali, Martine Vandeville Conseillere Banque, Cedric Appietto Pujade, Marc Zinga Moussa Kone

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Spiral – series 3 PREVIEW

The team tackling the Butcher of La Villette. Pics: BBC

Rating ★★★★

BBC4, from Saturday, 2 April, 9pm

Spiral is far more bruising than most series put out by the Beeb and ITV. The French coppers depicted here have a way of doing things, and kid gloves are not standard issue. A bit like you imagine real cops to be the world over.

They’re unshaven, they shout in people’s faces, they’re known to go in for a bit of whoring and cocaine. When a wedding photographer looks suspicious, they drag him away and put a crude sign in his shop window to let his customers know what they think of him – ‘Closed for paedophilia’. Barnaby and Lewis are never this in-yer-face.

Series three is taking The Killing‘s BBC4 slot on Saturday nights, and for a short while you could be forgiven for thinking you were back in Copenhagen, so bleak and wet a night is it. And there’s a female in charge, the battling captain Laure Berthaud, played by Caroline Proust.

The Butcher of La Villette
The episode is called The Butcher of La Villette, and that’s no understatement. The body of a young prostitute is discovered and looks as though she has fallen victim to France’s own Jack the Ripper. The pathologist even suggests a surgeon, vet or butcher as the likely culprit.

No nonsense – Caroline Proust as Laure Berthaud

The lifeblood of the series is internecine politics and interplay between the detectives, prosecutors and judges, who make most viper nests look like models of decorum and integrity. Here, Berthaud stumbles on a huge case involving a psychopath, only to discover that her lieutenant, Gilou (Thierry Godard), knew the girl was missing two days before her murder, but did not start a file on her or circulate her photo. As thanks for covering his arse, he tells Berthaud he’s transferring to Special Branch.

He also refuses to accompany Berthaud to give the girl’s grandmother the grim news of the murder, because he knows she will want to know why nothing was done to find the teenager. Again, exactly the kind of cock-up you hear of but never see in most home-based procedurals.

A very grubby case

Meanwhile, Judge Roban (Grégory Fitoussi) is busy threatening a couple whose child has been savaged by a dog in case they embarrass the mayor’s office, and the murder case descends into a very grubby story of a daughter pimping her friends for her father.

The complexity of the narrative and the depiction of realistic characters seems completely foreign to British mainstream series these days, with their linear procedural plots and zombie characters.

It’s a long wait till autumn and series two of The Killing, but in the meantime it will be great watching the French rozzers elbowing their way through this mess.

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