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It took a long time for this subtitled French police murder mystery to warm up – but it was worth waiting for.

Channel 4, 10pm, Wednesday 22nd July

Perhaps unavoidably, the first 35 minutes was made up of scene setting and establishing the characters and the complex crime they were all connected to.

Marie Dompnier as Sandra Winckler
Marie Dompnier as Sandra Winckler

Set in a port town in the rainy, grey industrial north coast of France, a police team led by Sandra Winckler (played by Marie Dompnier) was investigating a bizarre and gruesome discovery: freshly buried corpses had been dug from their graves and arranged in show homes in a new private housing development. A picture of her boss, troubled retired cop Paul Maissoneuve (played by Thierry l’Hermitte, who looked like nothing so much as a more handsome Gallic Liam Neeson) had been placed in the macabre tableaux.

Thierry Lhermitte as Paul Maisonneuve, Marie Dompnier as Sandra Winckler and Jan Hammenecker as Justin
Thierry Lhermitte as Paul Maisonneuve, Marie Dompnier as Sandra Winckler and Jan Hammenecker as Justin

As you would expect from a Gallic production, there he was a very great deal of moody staring into space, meaningful glances, spooky music and solitary, thoughtful figures walking along windswept lanes or rainy streets, collars turned up against the world.

But slowly, ponderously, the story began to come together, and the stock characters – the bolshy, up and coming female detective, the chubby wisecracking sidekick, the moody, troubled retired ‘tec  whose glittering career was built on squalid compromises – began to fill out, began to engage the imagination.

Laurent Lucas as Kaz Gorbier
Laurent Lucas as Kaz Gorbier

And the morbid plot began to thicken, as we learned that the show homes were built by a failing construction firm, and that two of the corpses arranged en famille in the show homes had been players in the local building trade – and that retired senior detective Paul Maisonneuve had links from way back to the moneybags owner of the house building firm.

Witnesses
Witnesses

Witnesses began slowly, but revealed itself as a high quality, rewarding drama. Complex plotting, stylish acting and buckets of Gallic flair.

Well worth checking out on All 4 catchup.

Or if you’re still not convinced, here’s the trailer to whet your appetite.

David Young