The Crimson Rivers: A dark French thriller
James R | On 11, Jan 2019
If you thought that adapting films into TV shows was an exclusively American hobby, France’s latest crime thriller is here to remind us that they can do it too – and just as well. A Europacorp production, The Crimson Rivers (Les Rivières Pourpres) follows in the footsteps (and tyre tracks) of the Transporter series, taking a 2000 blockbuster of the same name and turning it into a serial. Those expecting an exact retread, though, can rest easy: aside from the basic premise of odd couple cops in the darker corners of France’s close-knit communities, The Crimson Rivers largely flows in its own direction.
Where the movie starred Vincent Cassel and Jean Reno, this small screen outing follows Pierre Niemans and Camille Delaunay, one a veteran of the national force and the other an up-and-coming officer. There’s tension before their investigation even gets underway, as the duo have an intense history – an old-school rogue of French policing, Niemans has taught waves of new recruits to uphold the law (or bend it), and Delaunay is a former pupil. Their long-standing balance of authority and respect threatens to be rattled early on, and the cast play into it with a convincing chemistry; Olivier Marchal, who also starred in Walter Presents’ Eyewitness, is enjoyably gruff as Delaunay’s senior, while Erika Sante (Baron Noir) brings a plucky attitude to her young upstart.
They’ll certainly need all the pluck they can get, judging by their first case together, which involves a particularly brutal decapitation. The head in question turns up when a rich German family are out hunting in the woods, kicking off a tale that sinks its teeth into satisfying themes of wealth, class and animal cruelty. Sante’s Delaunay is appalled by the idea of hunting, putting the group of potential suspects even more on edge than they are already – fox-hunting is banned in Germany, so they venture over the border into France to carry out their passtime, putting them in the jurisdiction of the OCCS, the country’s newly formed crime-solving force.
That strong sense of location runs throughout the programme, as director Julius Berg embraces the chilling sense of remote danger that rural France can bring; created by Jean-Christophe Grangé, whose novel was the basis of the 2000 film, this is a thriller that has its finger on a moral compass, fusing family rituals and cultural traditions together against a fairytale-like backdrop. The introduction of Nora von Waldstätten as the victim’s snooty sister only raises further questions of inherited secrets and rotten privilege.
The eight-part series is split into four cases, with each mystery taking two chapters, which gives the programme extra breathing space to inhale its atmosphere and establish characters, but without sacrificing a sense of pace. Key to that approach, though, are likeable protagonists to keep you watching from week to week, and Marchal and Sante’s compelling but potentially volatile dynamic – one cynical and patient, the other happy to over-step any marks necessary to get her man – promises to do just that. Airing in full weekly on More4’s coveted Friday night slot, grab a bottle of Alsace wine, put on a jumper and go with the flow.
The Crimson Rivers premieres at 9pm on More4 on Friday 11th January, with episodes premiering weekly and available on Walter Presents following their broadcast.