Sunday, April 03, 2011

Spiral....the Grittiness Returns


After the smoothness of Silk (sorry if it sounds like a cigarette commercial), it's good to see the return (saison trois) of the gritty Spiral (with BBC website link) or Engranages in French (with French website link) on BBC4.

In the first episode we get Jack the Ripper style murderers, paedophiles, dangerous pit bulls, and a touch of voodoo. All part of a normal day in Paris. We have detectives taking blow jobs and coke from prostitutes, crooked lawyers being shot up in the street, juges d'instruction of the highest rectitude, grande dames insisting that police breathalyzers were made to detect cheap plonk not premier crus. C'est impossible!

I first wrote about Spiral in 2006 when it was shown here in the UK. I was struck by the different relationships between lawyers and prosecutors and judges in France compared to the UK and the US. If you want to see how then have a look at Lincoln Lawyer, recently released. As I said, French lawyers are more deferential than ours.

Many of the commentators at the Silk post expressed some bafflement with the oddities of English legal procedure and traditions. The French version will make them feel like they are driving around the Place de la Concorde in the wrong direction in rush hour. We focus on the lawyer as the hero whereas the French seem to honour the investigating judge as the true searcher for truth. Remember, this is a country where a law graduate chooses whether to become a judge or a lawyer.

Spiral  has some things in common with another terrific recent BBC4 series, The Killing. They aren't English. The Killing is Danish. Both the protagonists are women--strong but subtlely flawed. You have the feeling they are on the brink...Any moment...

We see them make mistakes, get chided by their superiors, and watch them wonder, for the n-th time, why they are doing it when everyone else conspires against them. Given the politics of these investigations, it's amazing that any crime is solved. Politicians and superior officers are always interfering to protect their cronies.

We are getting a nice line in policiers on TV. Denmark has given us The Killing and Wallender, France Spiral, and Italy Zen. (And I will say I am deeply grateful to the BBC for bringing us all of these.) I would love to see Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole from Olso come to the screen, but I suspect it might be a bit too gritty even after the diet we've eaten. If you haven't read The Leopard yet I recommend it but preferably before a meal not after. Since reading about "Leopold's Apple" I haven't touched one....

(Having checked out Nesbo's website (sorry can't do those funny Os with a line through them) I see one of his books--but not a Harry Hole--has been filmed, Headhunters. See also the trailer at YouTube.)

So do tune into Spiral or if you can't then watch it on the BBC's wonderful iPlayer.

For those of you outside the UK who have some difficulty persuading iPlayer to show you its wares, I recommend Tor. It does the trick and you can watch.
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