Broadchurch, North France
Season One Review
Pitched as France’s answer to Broadchurch, Witnesses provides a strong detective miniseries hampered slightly by a wholly preposterous story which takes personal stakes to a whole new level.After a number of dead bodies are dug up and arranged in a show home with personal effects all pointing towards a retired – but celebrated – police detective, it’s not long before the lead detective assigned, Sandra Winkler, seeks the help and guidance of this seasoned veteran, Paul Maisonneuve, who himself has only just recovered from the physical and mental stress of a near-fatal car crash, itself coming off the back of the tragic death of his wife. When the legend becomes involved in the case, however, cracks in his own past begin to show, and Sandra – going through her own difficulties, both personally and professionally – finds that her former mentor may have a much more personal stake in the proceedings than he is prepared to admit.Over the course of the six episodes of Witnesses, whilst the characters become inherently more interesting through slow reveals, the story becomes increasingly convoluted. Elaborately staged murder scenes, decades-old vendettas, exquisitely plotted revenge; it’s the stuff of the Count of Monte Cristo, however it threatens to induce rolling eye syndrome as the arcs are aligned. With strong performances from the two leads, and solid support – as well as a superb opening track by Tricky – there’s still plenty to enjoy, however the end result is somewhat overly contrived, with even the cold North France setting, whilst ostensibly unusual, reminding us of classic films like Get Carter, to which a series like this arguably owes too great a debt.
Blu-ray Image QualityWitnesses hits UK shores on a Region B-locked Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow, who deliver a largely excellent 1080i/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation, framed in the TV series’ original production ratio of 1.78:1 widescreen. Detail ranges from very good to outright excellent, holding up even in some of the darkest sequences, where shadow detail remains strong and blacks aren’t privy to any significant crush.
Digitally shot with impeccable attention to detail, Witnesses looks impressive even in only 1080i.
Skin tones are healthy and natural, and skin textures keenly observed, particularly when it comes to the ageing but distinguished face of the veteran ex-cop, Maisonneuve. Aerial shots are stunning, offering up picture-perfect observation of the northern French locations and setting the scene for the mystery thriller. There are few overtly vibrant tones – not least because of the near-English weather that dominates – although dominant browns are warm and the colours used are rich. Black levels are strong and generally well resolved although probably struggle the most, whereas close-ups are frequently all-but freeze-frame perfect.
The Linear PCM 2.0 audio track provides strong accompaniment to the piece.
In its native French language (with optional English subtitles), the film promotes dialogue clearly and coherently across the frontal array, ranging from quiet chats and whispers to louder interrogations and screams. Effects are almost entirely background-related, with few defining moments: an early spray of rifle shots livens things up, and later a car crash, but these touches are intermittent – basically one per episode, normally at the conclusion – rather than commonplace. Still, normal car and traffic noises provide some nominal ambience, the seaside backdrop brings gulls and crashing waves, and inside locations have the necessary buzz – from the police station to the crime scenes. The score draws the whole thing together, and is defined by the outstanding Tricky track, We Don’t Die (a great choice, following suit with the use of former Tricky collaborators Massive Attack on House and Luther) that headlines the series.
ExtrasI suppose that there is a little pun-tastic irony in the fact that the release of this murder mystery sports an extras package which is bare bones.
Blu-ray VerdictWell-cast and strongly-acted, Witnesses provides an initially intriguing, at times even compelling story which ultimately comes apart when trying to pull it all together. Contrived and forced – and all too personal – it stretches credibility in its attempt to show that all roads lead back to the same one person. Still, there is promise, certainly in the leads, and so it comes as little surprise that it’s already being considered for a (undoubtedly unnecessary) US remake. Thankfully fans can at least look forward to a second season which is supposed to go into production soon.
A strong UK Blu-ray release allows fans – old and new – to enjoy this latest foreign detective drama.
With largely excellent video and strong audio (although a somewhat unsurprising but still disappointing complete lack of extras), the UK Blu-ray release of Witnesses is worth checking out if you’re a fan of this ‘Nordic Noir’ (or should it be 'Gallic Noir') sub-genre, and those who enjoyed it can have the pleasure of revisiting it in all its glory prior to the anticipated second series, assuming it ever goes before the camera.
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