Archive for November 16, 2011

Crime on TV

Posted: November 16, 2011 in Denmark, France, Italy, tv crime fiction

Sarah Lund will be back this Saturday 19 November with The Killing [Forbrydelsen] II on BBC4. This will round off a golden period for British TV crime fiction watchers.

We have been spoilt over the past few weeks with several really top quality crime shows shown on TV. Top Boy [British] on Channel 4, Romanzo Criminale [Italian] on Sky Arts, and Braquo [French] on FX. Each of these shows has been compared with the classic American crime saga The Wire. But each is a unique show with its own qualities and although none match the depth of The Wire, they come pretty close in entertainment value and also in provoking discussion of the complex issues involved.

Channel 4’s Top Boy was a mini-series played out over four successive nights it encapsulated the desperate poverty of life on one of  London’s terrible estates with their combination of architecturally offensive tower blocks, and violent drug dealers. The acting was superb especially Malcolm Kamulete as 13 year old Ra’Nell, and Sharon Duncan-Brewster as his mentally ill mother Lisa. Top Boy was probably an accurate portrayal of parts of modern day London which meant you rarely saw a police officer and the action and outcome was depressingly bleak. My only criticism would be that it made heroes out of brutal drug dealers Dushane [Ashley Walters] and Sully [Kane Robinson], and that for a Cockney crime lord Bobby Raikes [Geoff Bell] was both seriously short of manpower and very naive for someone who supposedly had ‘been in this business for 20 years’. A bleak, very depressing, but brilliant series that might hopefully combined with the riots earlier this year blast our politicians out of their self satisfied stupor to perhaps deal with some of Britain’s inner city problems.

Sky Art’s Romanzo Criminale is equally violent, but is somewhat more complex. Beginning in Rome during the 1970s and based on the award winning movie of the same name [itself based on a novel by Giancarlo De Cataldo] and tells the true story of the rise and fall of the Banda della Maglia. In an attempt to take control of all of Rome, two young hoodlums Il Libanese [Francesco Montanari] and Dandi [Alessandro Rioja] link up with Freddo [Vincio Marchioni] in a struggle with the existing order of gangsters, the police and eventually among themselves. The police play a bigger part in this 22 episode series as Commissario Scialoja [Mario Bocci]  battles his superiors as he attempts to smash the gang and put them in prison. But of course this being Italy, Scialoja is also trying to get the beautiful whore Patrizia away from Dandi, as both men want her as their girlfriend; and then politicians seek to use the gang for their own corrupt purposes. 

Braquo, which is on FX where The Wire made it’s British TV debut, features extreme violence, murder, corruption, drugs and a very sexy woman, and that is just the police, which considering the writer Oliver Marchal was a police officer for many years is a little worrying for anyone planning a holiday in Paris.  This 10 episode series tells the story of an elite police squad led by Eddy Caplan [Jean-Hugues Anglade] who go rogue using the same methods as those used by the criminals they are trying to catch. When they kidnap a low life from hospital to get him to retract a story about a colleague [who committed suicide under pressure from an Internal Affairs investigation], things go badly wrong and the squad gets in deeper and deeper trouble. The other members of this leather wearing group are gambling addicted Walter [Joseph Malerba], cocaine addicted young Theo [Nicolas Duvauchelle] and the one who looks good in tight leather trousers Roxane [Karole Rocher], who has some trouble with her conscience. The very thin veneer of respectability than covers the French political and judicial systems is ripped away and the corrupt venal underbelly exposed. Production, music, casting, settings and everything else make Braquo an absolute masterpiece of a crime series, but it is not viewing for the sensitive. 

What I find particularly fascinating is that all three series whether by chance, or intention, represent certain salient features about their respective countries.

Top Boy, England, the almost total absence of  police on the streets; Romanzo Criminale, Italy, a distinct problem with corruption and beautiful women; and Braquo, France, a violent police force, and cynically crooked politicians.

Now for Denmark’s The Killing II and Sarah Lund.