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At a time when the UK voted to leave the European Union in a historic referendum, the subject of immigration has rarely been more hotly debated. It’s smart of Channel 4’s Walter Presents, then, to throw this Polish box set into the fray.
The set-up is simple: Wiktor Rebrow (Leszek Lichota) is the leader of a unit that specialises in policing the border between Poland and Ukraine. One night, though, his entire unit is blown up by a bomb – including his partner, Ewa (Julia Pogrebinska). Emerging from it alive, he’s immediately suspected of orchestrating the attack. And so he begins to try and clear his name.
It’s a familiar premise, as the show introduces us to the usual supporting figures around our hero: there’s the veteran, Markowski (Andrzej Zielinski), who’s reluctantly drafted in to be the new team’s captain. There’s the prosecutor, Iga Dobosz (Aleksandra Poplawska), who is watching Rebrow like a hawk. And there’s his old friend from Warsaw, Grzywaczewski (Bartlomiej Topa), who also comes back in the aftermath of the attack, but to what purpose?
The six-part story unfolds without any rush: in the first two episodes, we move forward steadily, but never racing to over-the-top cliffhangers or melodrama, a fact that helps to give the whole thing a credible, low-key feel. That’s not to say it’s not well orchestrated, though, as the script gently highlights the contrasts between the sympathetic Natalia, who’s perhaps a little too soft to be Rebrow’s colleague, and the ruthless Iga, who has no qualms with a young girl having to identify her dead mother.
Rebrow, well acted by the likeable Lichota, is swiftly emphasised as a good egg, offering Markowski crucial advice on the routes that some illegal immigrants are likely to take after entering the country. Some strikingly directed flashbacks (or hallucinations?) to Ewa and Rebrow’s more intimate moments ensures that we see events from his sympathetic perspective – laced with a hint of guilt.
The introduction of associates Kalita and Kosowski and another killing adds to the sense of a bigger picture being put together, while director Michael Gazda beautifully captures the huge, hostile Bieszczady Mountains unfolding in the background. But it’s not just style and dead bodies. Anonymous messages, suspicious allies, dodgy superiors, the conspiracy conventions are all present and correct, but that only allows the show to start raising questions of immigration, security and policy – timely issues worth examining, wrapped up in a genre thriller, not unlike a covert text landing on your phone saying “Boom”. The use of hunting motifs throughout, meanwhile, from visions of a wolf at dramatic points in the narrative to the calling of the police unit “the pack”, adds a nice, taut air of prey and predator to the game of cat and mouse.
Whether you’re in it for the topical themes or the wrongly-accused-innocent-man drama, the result is a smart piece of programming by Walter Presents, not just because of the EU referendum, but because this is an intriguing, compelling bit of telly. More please.
All episodes of The Border are available to stream on All 4’s Walter Presents.