The Tunnel is one of several remakes being unloaded over the summer, i.e., TV programming wasteland, as well as one of multiple remakes of Hans Rosenfeldt’s Danish-Swedish series, Bron. This 2013 Sky Atlantic/Canal+ collaboration is one of the more impressive British-French imports to make its way stateside, however, so it’s worth the déjà vu. It stands on its own on the strength of its cast and direction, but more importantly, has been adapted in such a way that it casts old European enmities in a new light.
Rosenfeldt’s original series spawned two remakes in 2013. First, Meredith Stiehm and Elwood Reid’s The Bridge premiered on FX in July, then Sky Atlantic and Canal+ took viewers through The Tunnel in October of the same year. But this wasn’t just a case of the reboot trend run amok—the immigration debates, xenophobia, and all manner of prejudice that drove Bron’s tension can be found growing wild in most countries. It’s a premise that can be readily adapted, which is why the Danish and Swedish investigators of the original found new life as a Texas homicide cop and a Mexican state police officer, and also as a British chief inspector and a French detective.
The Bridge and Tunnel crowd replicate the structure of the original, which straddled the thriller and police procedural genres. A murder mystery brings two cops from neighboring countries together, who promptly fight over jurisdiction until they realize they can each lay claim to separate halves of what turns out to be two different victims. In the British-French adaptation, The Tunnel, the top half of an Anglo demagogue is found with the bottom half of a mixed-race prostitute from Wales. We soon learn that the killer has a twisted sense of humor, pairing the partial remains of a politician who would close England’s borders with those of an émigré.
On the killer’s trail are British detective chief inspector Karl Roebuck (Game Of Thrones’ Stephen Dillane) and French homicide detective Elise Wasserman (Harry Potter’s Clémence Poésy). They’re the central odd couple—an old tomcat and a younger, socially awkward woman (other iterations of the character place her on the autism spectrum). The former runs on instinct, while the latter is all about procedure. Dillane’s and especially Poésy’s nuanced performances offer relief from the grim crime scenes and chilling manifestos that Roebuck and Wasserman come across. Theirs is an easy chemistry with just a hint of sexual tension, though they obviously prefer to just work together.
Things get off to a rocky start, as Roebuck falls back on the language barrier and cultural divide when they first meet at the crime scene, which is in the Channel Tunnel (or “Chunnel” or just Tunnel). Wasserman is not easily charmed or goaded, so she doesn’t pick up on Roebuck’s flirting or ribbing. She retains a laser focus on the task at hand, which quickly becomes a manhunt for a domestic terrorist.
Like Bron or even Se7en before it, The Tunnel features a moral crusader whose abominable actions prove they’ve strayed as far from the straight and narrow as those they so harshly judge. This person (or persons) turns elaborate, murderous schemes into heavy-handed lessons, and all without any consideration that only those without sin should cast the first stone. And to ensure that the truth isn’t buried along with the bodies, a tabloid journalist is brought into the mix to relay the Truth Terrorist’s, or “TT’s,” messages.
These messages or “truths” are condemnations of modern society, which the TT believes has no use for the elderly nor any respect for its forgotten heroes. This hateful entity is prepared to dole out Old Testament-style punishments to establish their own moral superiority. Of course, their own disregard for the lives of virtually all human beings isn’t one of the truths propagated, presumably because, in addition to being an omniscient criminal, the TT is capable of some serious mental gymnastics. They would have to be to adhere to such warped morality.
There can be no meaningful analysis of any of The Bridge’s adaptations without acknowledging that domestic terrorism drives the plot. These horrors aren’t just used as titillating tableaux or for a sense of ripped-from-the-headlines urgency, though The Tunnel has had the bad luck of having both its European and U.S. premieres clouded by real-life acts of terror. The action is well-directed, and the cat-and-mouse games well-written, but the Truth Terrorist is never glamorized. This individual, along with their journalist mouthpiece, might play to some of the baser, uglier aspects of humanity, but The Tunnel dilutes that bile with its multilingual setting and multicultural cast.