on 10 November 2008
I bought this series for two reasons. I speak french so like to watch french films to stop getting too rusty. I also like series like The Wire, 24, the shield and to a lesser extent CIS. So I thought this would be entertaining.
I wasn't expecting to be blown away.
I sat down yesterday, a lazy Sunday afternoon, to watch the first couple of episodes and went to bed at 1am, after having watched the entire series back-to-back.
A complicated storyline, about a murdered young woman found in a skip, that reveals itself episode by episode with surprises right up until the end. A police investigation with flawed detectives. A politically sensitive criminal justice department that will happily persecute anyone without political clout. Shameless lawyers with heart. A dark and twisting crime thriller wrapped up in french flair. Spiral is the name, and the name reflects the plot - don't expect anything to be straightforward.
I'm not sure exactly what it is about the series that gripped me so much. The acting is very good, the interplay between characters is subtle and real, the storyline is fairly straightforward but is interwoven with many subplots, some simple some convoluted. Production values are high. It is the sum of the parts that makes the series excellent.
However, the series does have some flaws. The major flaw is that the storyline, as it reveals, depends on some quite striking coincedences of who knows who, which do stretch credibility once you sit back and think about it. The point is, though, that you don't think about it as the drama is so engrossing.
Another flaw, for some, is that the storyline does not resolve as neatly or as clearly as you might want. Personally, after enjoying the ride so much whilst it lasted, I am not going to complain now.
on 10 January 2009
This series really is brilliant. Like previous reviewers I didn't have high hopes - the French are not renowned for exporting quality television - but by the end of episode one I was not only very impressed, I was hooked. The 8 episodes are uniformly high quality but the whole production is so subtely executed that it's hard to pinpoint exactly why it's so good. Some stand outs -
It looks fantastic. The cast are striking and the whole thing is filmed through a wonderful muted metallic sheen. The camera work is modern and dynamic but not intrusive. It works. The backdrop is Paris, but unlike so many other productions set there this isn't an advert on behalf of the French tourist board. We know we are in Paris but it's no sightseeing tour - there's no time for elaborate scene-setting. The odd glimpses we do get - The Eiffel Tower, Basin de la Vilette, the Bois de Vincennes, the Seine, the Musee Gustave Moreau - are all the better for being so brief.
The plot is excellent. The main story of the dead Romanian girl unravels slowly and brings together many disparate subplots and characters - it is masterfully done. It's not super-complicated, but there are many surprises along the way and almost every episode ends on a cliff hanger so effective that you will find it hard to get off the sofa.
The ideas are fresh and varied. While it's all been done in this type of show, the crimes and criminals in Spiral are well thought out and varied. There are many dilemmas presented to the viewer and an array of villains in every guise. The motives are believable, the stories conflicting, and you are left questioning if everything is as it seems.
The performances are of a very high standard. There isn't a bad actor on show, and even the bit parts, whether it's the interpreter for the deaf or the repugnant auctioneer, are believeable. Caroline Proust and Gregory Fitoussi are the stars, two hugely charismatic actors who bring fantastic chemistry to their onscreen relationship. Guillaume Cramoisan also excels as the horrible Benoit Faye. It's wrong to only highlight a few as there is an entire cast of believeable, three dimensional characters here.
It's not groundbreaking, but it's fantastic entertainment and does its job as effectively as any UK or US counterpart. It is atmospheric, slick, intelligent, subtle and elegant. As outlined briefly above the quality of the entire production is admirable - easily as good, if not better, than the best of UK and US television. You are fully immersed from the first minute til the last - first rate television, highly recommended.
(Roll on season 2!)
on 18 March 2008
I watched this on BBC Four way back. It is one of, if not the best crime drama to be made in years. I've had it on my V+ since it was repeated last year and watched it again and again, it still doesn't get boring. I can't believe it has taken this long to come to DVD.
It refuses to shy away from the graphic realities of the criminal underworld - visually it is stunning and sometimes sickening - probably not for those with a weak stomach. The title in French is 'Engrenage' meaning 'ratchet'. The tale gets more and more twisted, more and more engrossing as it progresses, the tension builds and compels you to watch on. Up there with 24, Waking The Dead and Lost. It's just such a shame that Canal+ haven't made a second series until now, and I cannot wait to see later in the year when it's on British TV.
For me, this series has its weaknesses, but it has so many strengths that I would certainly recommend it with enthusiasm. It is fast-paced, the plots are labyrinthine but with intriguing links, the characterisation is convincing and involving on the whole, the acting is largely superb and the Gallic 'feel' of the whole thing is, for me, a big attraction. I particularly like the presence of the two strong women, natural adversaries here, Laure Berthaud, the tough, committed, highly capable but vulnerable chief inspector and Josephine Karlsson, the cynical, manipulative, ruthless, very effective lawyer. In these roles, Caroline Proust and Audrey Fleurot are wonderful, Proust particularly. But there is strength right through the cast, with Phillipe Duclos excellent as the wily, obsessive Juge Roban and Guillaume Cramison also good as Faye, the man you would like to trust but never should. The feel of the Parisian underclass, junkies, prostitutes, thugs and gangsters, is strongly present, but there is also the criminal overclass, privileged and powerful, even more of a thorn in the flesh of the police and the judicial system than the obvious law-breakers.
Indeed, as I said, I like the 'Frenchness' of the series. It's interesting to see how their policing works, how their courts conduct themselves, the relationships between police, prosecutor and 'juge' (not a court judge, more of a very senior investigating officer). In Berthaud we have an officer whom all professionals admire (and some fear), but one who makes no secret of her willingness to sleep with colleagues and close colleagues to whom she takes a fancy (so much so that one expert, a pathologist - and not an admirer - claims in a throwaway remark that she is famous for it). She is no slut ; she has great energy and a curious kind of humanity and dignity. Somehow this works in a French series in a way that it would not, I think, in a British context. At the same time, it highlights Berthaud's vulnerability. What kind of real relationships can she form in her lifestyle,which is characterised by danger, unpredictability, the need to confront the most horrible examples of human behaviour, awareness at all times of her accountability particularly to those who would like to see her defeated in her work .... ?
I am unhappy about one or two things. One is the character and behaviour of Prosecutor Pierre Clement. I don't want to give things away, but he maintains a friendship in the face of all evidence that it is foolish, unprofessional and dangerous to do so ; though reasons are given for this, I don't find them convincing and to me he seems naive beyond the point of credibility. He is a major character, so it matters. In the role, Gregory Fitoussi looks wonderful (Berthaud thinks so from episode one), but he has a slightly thankless task and I'm not sure how well he handles it. Very oddly, just once or twice he made me think of the British TV series 'Taggart', which features cops in the big city who always seems a little ploddish. Nothing else about 'Spiral' is like 'Taggart' - it's a much sharper show!!! Likewise Berthaud's determination to protect Inspector Lemaire ('Gilou') at great professional risk to herself seems a little hard to accept (though she does it very cleverly). And there are one or two plot devices that don't quite work for me, and one or two links that seems a bit far-fetched. Finally, the last episode doesn't really work for me - I can't explain why without perhaps giving things away. I can see what they are trying to do, but for me it was not a fully satisfying conclusion.
However, all of that simply makes the show not perfect. It remains gripping and surprising at every turn. I got it on DVD after seeing some of Series 2 on TV, and good as this is, I suspect (and others say) that Series 2 is even better. Next step, then, is to get that and watch the whole thing - and I understand Series 3 is being filmed now. Excellent!