TV review: Witnesses, Channel 4 (4 stars)

TV review: Witnesses, Channel 4

Another fine example of Eurocrime drama, which invites comparisons to The Killing

It’s a well-worn cliché that those cool French folk do things with a little more sophistication than the rest of us. Episode one of Witnesses is doing literally nothing to destroy that stereotype: even their freshly dug-up corpses look painfully stylish. Somewhere spectacular in the north of France, a maniac (or more likely, several maniacs) are exhuming freshly buried bodies and placing them in new show homes to make them look like a perfect family (albeit a totally dead one).

This disturbing tableau is completed with the discovery of a framed photograph of Paul Maisonneuve (Thierry Lhermitte), the retired cop who was responsible for having around 230 nasty crims put away over the course of his illustrious career. That’s a lot of motives to sift through. But Maisonneuve himself appears to be in possession of a whole cupboard-full of rattling skeletons with chief investigating officer Sandra Winckler (Marie Dompnier) seeking to pick the bones out of his secrets in order to make headway in the case.

Any new tense and sleek European crime show with intermittent explosions of pulse-worrying excitement will have immediate comparisons to The Killing and The Bridge thrust upon it. Happily, Witnesses has plenty going for it to stand on its own two feet. It certainly has the potential benefit of being a lean six episodes long, fending off the kind of criticisms which The Killing had to endure for being overly-woolly in parts across its 20-episode opening season.

And all too inevitably, the character of Sandra Winckler will be set against The Killing’s Sarah Lund and The Bridge’s Saga Norén. She certainly shares Lund’s cold-eyed professionalism though she’s in touch enough with her own feelings to offer the occasional smile to people around her; and while it was clear that Saga was somewhere pretty far along the autistic spectrum, Winckler just really likes to have a tidy workspace.

Winckler, though, seems to be riding the internal storm of harbouring suspicions that her partner might be cheating on her by just getting on with doing an excellent job. How cool and sophisticated is that? Over six episodes, it’s unlikely that we’ll bear witness to the psychological problems inherent in burying such worries deep.

Witnesses starts on Channel 4, Wed 22 Jul, 10pm