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This winter’s best European TV crime dramas

BY Barry Forshaw

1st Jan 2015 Film & TV

This winter’s best European TV crime dramas

With the return of The Bridge on BBC Four brace yourselves for a European crime wave—on your TV screens…

The crime genre is as much about films and TV as it is about books, and Eurocrime is barrelling towards viewers in a virtual avalanche.

Take a few examples of the new cosmopolitanism. France has been responsible for such mesmerising non-crime material as the atmospheric The Returned with its disturbing supernatural elements. These are echoed in the Swedish Jordskott, although so far it has not enjoyed much success in the UK.

Then there is the grandfather of all Scandinavian detectives, Beck (based on the novels by Sjöwall & Wahlöö), which, after a slow start, has exerted a firm grip on us.

The Sunday Times has talked about ‘a cross-channel crime wave’, and with new films and TV shows about to take the phenomenon to even more stratospheric levels, here is our pick of the bunch.


Crime à la Français

There is no denying the cult appeal of such harsh, often brutal French TV series as the uncompromising Braquo and Spiral, the latter mixing legal and police drama.

The queasy, amoral universe they inhabit makes a marked contrast with similar shows in the UK. The level of nihilism and corruption so endemic to these series is uniquely Gallic.



Image via BBC 

Spiral has been gradually building up a reputation over several well-received seasons.

At the centre of this tough, authentic show is police captain Laure Berthaud (ably played by Caroline Proust, who makes Laure conflicted, driven, tough and vulnerable). The increasingly hard-edged episodes show is strongly written and cast.

Caroline Proust is set against Audrey Fleurot as the corrupt, flame-haired advocate Joséphine Karlsson who finds—painfully—that lying down with dogs is a sure way of acquiring fleas.



This dark series (often described as the French answer to The Wire) is so unsparing in its view of French police work that it makes such gritty rivals as Spiral look positively rose-coloured.

There is some impeccable ensemble playing, with Jean Hugues-Anglade relinquishing his customary easy charm as a compromised Parisian cop drawn into realms of corruption and violence after the suicide of the leader of his squad.

It's a measure of the sheer skill of Braquo that most viewers will spend their time veering between supporting the French cops as they perform another outrageous stunt or yelling at the screen: ‘What are you doing?’




Witnesses is a French crime drama (not to be confused with the similarly-titled Eyewitness) that has won praise for its slow-burning expertise.

It is notably unlike other French crime dramas because it has the pace and atmosphere of Nordic Noir, not to mention a Scandi-style protagonist in its tenacious female cop, Sandra Winckler.

Sandra is not a million miles away, in fact, from The Killing's Sarah Lund.


Inspector Montalbano

Inspector Montalbano
Image via Series TV Show

Interestingly, the beautifully shot Montalbano evoked a very new response from British viewers.

While viewers were prepared to accept the unforgiving urban landscapes of Scandinavian film and crime fiction as realistic, they appeared to look to the Italian crime drama series based on the much-loved novels by Andrea Camilleri in more indulgent, hedonistic fashion.

Audiences savoured the warm glow imparted by the Mediterranean setting, the blue skies and a personable Latin hero (played by Luca Zingaretti) tackling none-too gritty crimes. The town of Vigàta, with its unspoilt antique beauty, provided a sumptuous wish-we-there backdrop.


Romanzo Criminale

Romanzo Criminale
Image via Romanzo Criminale

It was inevitable that Giancarlo De Cataldo’s novel about three young criminals in Rome would lead to a film adaptation. The later over-extended TV series however, was a victim of its own success, with the dramatic possibilities entering a repetitive, cyclical mode.

There is a refusal to make any of the self-serving, violent characters sympathetic (or in possession of even minimal moral or humane qualities). Nevertheless, the series is made with considerable skill and acted with unshowy truthfulness that largely keeps such reservations at bay.

The later, similar Gomorrah was more consistently successful and varied.

The Scandinavian crime scene


The Bridge

The Bridge
Image via Wiki

The fascination with Scandinavian crime series inaugurated with The Killing continued with The Bridge, and Series 3 appears to be maintaining the same iron grip of its predecessor.

We are once again in the company of the fascinating sociopathic heroine Saga Norén (if possible, she’s even further off the spectrum of ordinary human behaviour than before, to often hilarious effect).


Crimes of Passion

Crimes of Passion is markedly different from the dark, moody Scandicrime that has characterised the genre for so long. This sunny, unclouded mystery series was based on the cosier novels of Maria Lang.

Lang’s inspiration was English crime queen Agatha Christie, and the series offers more relaxing entertainment alongside the edgier fare.



Eyewitness is a compulsive six-part thriller, beginning with two gay teenagers unwittingly witnessing a murder. The foster mother of one of the boys, Helen Sikkeland, is the local police chief in charge of the investigation. She is unaware that her son is a witness and in the sights of a ruthless killer.

Anneke von der Lippe plays the police chief, a determined middle-aged policewoman reminiscent of the unglamorous Frances McDormand character in the Cohen Brothers’ film Fargo.

What’s more, the involvement of the security services soon spreads things out into the kind of complex, multi-layered canvas that lovers of Scandicrime relish.


On the horizon

Norwegian crime writing star Anne Holt’s Modus series has just been shown on Swedish TV4, with investigator and criminal psychologist Inger Johanne Vik tackling grisly crimes while looking after an autistic daughter.

Also forthcoming is The Team, an expensive crime drama involving creative personnel from the Danish political drama Borgen.

Investigators from Denmark, Germany and Belgium are tasked with looking into the killing of three young women in Copenhagen, Berlin and Antwerp. The innovation here? The show will involve the protagonists speaking in their native tongues when in their own territory (Danish in Copenhagen, German in Berlin and so forth).

From sunnier climates, the Italian 1992 is set in the February of that year, when the arrest of Italian politician Mario Chiesa on charges of corruption sets in motion a series of large-scale investigations and trials that go under the name of “Clean Hands”.

The latest news that Channel 4 have a forthcoming foreign language channel is even more evidence that European drama is here to stay.

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