European drama has slowly been beginning to win the hearts of British audiences over the last decade. From Sweden`s detective drama Wallander, to the chilling French pseudo-zombie thriller The Returned, it seems like the British public is finally starting to shed their patriotic preconceptions that nothing from the continent could possibly top our own produce. Having already made waves in its own country, seasoned French dramatist Herve Hadmar`s latest offering, Witnesses, a gritty crime drama set in the peaceful, dreary French countryside, has gripped audiences this side of the Channel as well.
Set in the sleepy town of Le Treport in drizzly Normandy, Witnesses follows detectives Justin (Jan Hammenecker) and Sandra (Marie Dompnier) as they investigate a bizarre series of crimes in which the corpses of murder victims have been exhumed and placed in houses around the town. Implicated to the crimes is former police chief Maisonneuve (Thierry Lhermitte, star of the Francophonic incarnation of Doc Martin), somewhat unhinged after the tragic loss of his wife. As tension rises, it is up to our heroes to get to the root of the ungodly crimes once and for all.
Weighing in at only six episodes, Witnesses is a succinct and well-paced piece, never once losing momentum as it twists and turns at a hurtling speed towards its gripping final reveal.
The lead actors give fantastic performances throughout, with the delightful Dompnier, in her first major TV role, showing a real talent for showing the torn nature of a detective assigned to the most disturbing of cases. Her portrayal of Sandra is intelligent and perpetually watchable. Dompnier is certainly one to watch out for in the future. Hammenecker as her world-weary partner is also a real delight to watch. The true star, however, is Mr. Lhermitte. Already a household name is in France, and for obvious reason, Lhermitte is a theatrical powerhouse, owning each scene he is in with grace and strength.
What really sets the show apart from others of the genre, however, is Hadmar`s direction. The depth and beauty of the Normandy setting really creates a new canvas for our tale to unfold, with the grey skies and constant drizzle adding to the claustrophobic atmosphere. In its almost sepia palette, Witnesses maintains an almost otherworldly aura, with Eric Demarsan`s delicate score enforcing the haunting tone of proceedings.
Dark, gripping, and intelligent, Witnesses is a fine representation of what French drama can do, and will keep audiences both sides of La Manche engrossed for its entire six hour run.
4 / 5
Dir: Herve Hadmar
Scr: Herve Hadmar, Marc Herpoux
DOP: Jean-Max Bernard
Number of Episodes: 6
Episode Runtime: 52mins
Witnesses is out on DVD and Blu-ray from October 5th.
You can also check out our interview with star Marie Dompnier here