Witnesses: A French Mystery Series

Witnesses, or Les Témoins in the original French, is a dark and moody police procedural from France. It’s streaming now with subtitles on Netflix, iTunes and Amazon. Season 1 has 6 episodes.

Marie Dompnier in Witnesses

Marie Dompnier stars as Sandra Winckler, the police officer assigned to a macabre case. Her partner is Justin (Jan Hammenecker). Recently buried bodies are removed from their graves and placed in show homes.

Sandra is a brilliant detective – smart and intuitive. She has a daughter and a boyfriend. The relationship with the boyfriend is strained by several factors. She is determined as a cop and complex as a woman.

Early in the investigation of the unearthed bodies, it becomes clear that they are connected to former police chief Paul Maisonneuve (Thierry Lhermitte).

Paul, Sandra and Justin
Paul, Sandra and Justin

Sandra has an unpleasant history with Paul from her time in the police academy. He returns from retirement to help with this case.

At first Paul pretends not to remember Sandra. He finally admits he does. He also realizes as they work the case that she is a far better cop than he ever was. He even tells her that.

The case grows and expands and secrets are revealed and more and more murdered corpses are dug up and displayed in show homes. Each crime scene has a clue connecting it to Paul. As the episodes roll by, it becomes clear that there may be more than one crime and more than one criminal operating at the same time. Yet all are bent on revenge against Paul. His secrets and past are slowly unveiled as the investigation moves closer to a conclusion. The mystery grows more and more complex with each new episode until it leads to an exciting and dangerous climax.

The series is set in the small coastal town of Le Tréport in northern France. It’s winter, it’s cold, the colors are muted blues and greys, it rains frequently and clouds hang low. Much of it takes place at night. If that isn’t dark and creepy enough for you, there is also a mysterious wolf that witnesses report seeing around the crime scenes. Witnesses has been compared with other noir series such as The Wire, The Bridge, Broadchurch and The Killing.

The series is quiet and methodical with moments of terror and excitement sprinkled throughout. I don’t think it’s a series everyone will love, but I enjoyed it and happily watched all six episodes. I took French in college, and enjoyed seeing how much of the dialog I understood. I think I caught about 18.7% of what was said. Thank goodness for subtitles. Check out the first episode and see if you get caught up in the drama.

The Trailer

This is the trailer used in the UK.

And another trailer for Britain.

Recommended: Broadchurch

Broadchurch is a small town on the coast of England. Broadchurch, a new series on BBC America, takes its name from that location. A young boy is murdered there at the opening of this excellent police drama.

Episode 1 aired last Wednesday, but you can watch it before episode 2 on this coming Wednesday. Stay tuned to find out where.

David Tennant in Broadchurch
David Tennant in Broadchurch

Two police officers investigate the murder. David Tennant from Doctor Who plays DI Hardy. Olivia Coleman is DS Ellie Miller. Their first interaction is unfriendly, since DI Hardy is new in town and new on the job. Ellie Miller, a long-time Broadchurch officer, thought the DI job was going to be hers.

Jodie Whittaker and Andrew Buchan play the murdered boy’s parents. Broadchurch is a small community where everyone knows everyone else. At least they seem to. There are secrets. The death of the boy impacts everyone in the community. DS Ellie Miller and her son Tom were close to the family of the murdered boy. In episode 1 we begin to see some of the ripples within the community as the town tries to deal with the event and the search for a suspect intensifies.

When news of the murder is leaked on Twitter, a media circus comes to town which adds to the ensemble of characters and to the drama going on in the homes of the community members.

I was immediately hooked on the drama, the characters, and their many secrets. The relationships between the police officers, the townspeople and the journalists is compelling.

Season 1 contained 8 episodes, which were well received in the UK. A second season is scheduled, even though reports are that we learn the identity of the murderer at the end of episode 8.

If you missed the premier, BBC America has made the whole episode available on YouTube. You can also see the entire episode on BBC America. Episode 2 will air on Wednesday.

I recommend you watch the premier of this excellent police drama and check your local listings for the time you can catch the rest of the episodes on BBC America.

All images ©BBC America.