Three great cop shows — all European!

By Caitlin Kelly


I’m not, per se, a huge fan of cop shows, (although I enjoyed, and miss, NYPD Blue.)

But three shows have really caught my attention: Wallander (the Swedish version), The Tunnel and Inspector Lewis.

There are two versions of Wallander, the Swedish one (with English subtitles), filmed in the small southern coastal town of Ystad, and the English one, with Kenneth Branagh. For a variety of reasons, I prefer the Swedish.

I love the craggy, grumpy Wallander (pronounced Vall – AN -der), played by Krister Henriksson, who always looks like he could use 10 more hours of sleep, some coffee and a shave. He supervises two young detectives, Pontus and Isabelle, and their relationships form an interesting backdrop to the storylines.

I love the moody gray, blue and black palette of each 90-minute episode, which feels — to a North American viewer accustomed to 30 or 60-minute shows punctured with ads — luxurious and immersive, like a movie.

I love seeing Sweden’s gorgeous landscapes and beaches, and I like the way they say “Tack!” like a gunshot (Thanks, or please) into their cellphones.

I sat riveted every Sunday evening to see The Tunnel, a BBC production that is — a first — bilingual, half in French, half in English. It’s also the first time that officials allowed anyone to film inside the undersea tunnel that runs between England and France.

I missed the first episode, but it begins with the discovery of a woman’s severed body, half on the English side of the tunnel and half on the French side.

Ah, les rosbifs“, sigh the young French female detectives as the grizzled English cops arrive, as they now, resentfully, have to work together to solve a bi-national crime.

I saw no North American press coverage of this amazing show, and think Clemence Poesy is astounding as Elise Wasserman, the pale, taciturn blond who leads the French investigation. Her leonine face seemed to be make-up free, her hair always un-brushed, focused laser-narrow on her work.

Her British counterpart, Karl Roebuck, is a tough old thing who has multiple children with multiple women — and can’t keep his trousers zipped. He’s used to charming his way through most situations, a tactic Elise (even tougher) is utterly immune to.

The storyline is complex , with a surprise twist at the end.

It’s violent, of course, at times but emotionally compelling, and I found myself deeply involved with the two key characters.  This 10-episode series also had a very distinctive aesthetic — pale, washed-out, everyone wearing blue, black, green or brown.

The scene switches constantly from England to France, from one culture and language and procedural style to another. (As someone who’s lived in both countries, and speaks French, I loved this element of it.)

Inspector Lewis, (simply called Lewis in the UK) is so English!

Set in and around the gorgeous city of Oxford, and on the university campus, its three major characters are as likely to head to the pub for a pint as to gather at a murder scene.

I haven’t yet been to Oxford, (or Ystad), so I enjoy seeing the gorgeous scenery and the creamy stone buildings of the university. There are endless little digs at class difference and a wry perspective on the insularity of academic life.

Like Wallander, Morse plays a somewhat avuncular role with his younger sidekick, and it’s interesting to watch that relationship.

These shows allowed me to enjoy visiting Europe each week, without a long flight or jet lag.

Do you have a favorite police show?



31 thoughts on “Three great cop shows — all European!

  1. Lesley

    There are actually two Swedish versions of Wallander – the other stars Rolf Lassgard and we enjoyed both versions.

    The Tunnel (we’ve just had series 2 here in the UK) is a remake of the Swedish/Danish series called The Bridge – based on a Danish detective and a Swedish detective (with Aspergers) working together to solve the murder of a politician on the bridge connecting Sweden and Denmark. We have seen the first three series so far and can say that it is completely brilliant. The fourth and final series is in production.

    Can also recommend Borgen and The Killing – both Danish series. Don’t bother with the US version of The Killing. Spin from France – excellent, Braquo also from France is excellent although violent but it is part of the story. Salamander from Belgium also excellent as is Beck from Sweden and Dicte: Crime reporter from Denmark.

    Israeli series have also been fantastic – please watch Prisoners of War – Homeland is based on this series – we watched this and the totally unexpected twist at the end of the first series left us both totally dumbfounded and amazed. Hostages, again much better than it;s American remake which starred Toni Collette.

    BBC4 in the UK devotes the slot from 9pm on Saturdays to European sub-titled drama and there’s a huge appetite for it in the UK (as you can see from my list!!).

  2. i have always enjoyed mysteries, crime shows and movies, though i tend to get into true crime documentaries more than anything else. these each sound wonderful though, with very interesting and human characters.

    1. Ooooh, now that’s obesssive! 🙂 I’m such a fan of the Jason Bourne films, have considered making that distinctive violin screech my ringtone.

      The Tunnel is really terrific. Wish it had been a bit longer.

      1. That’s not ringing a bell — I’ve also enjoyed Midsomer Murders, Sherlock Holmes, Grantchester and others. I love seeing the countryside and towns as well, all the different locations.

  3. Cop shows are among my favorite things to watch. These days I watch a lot less TV, but I especially love Law & Order: SVU (season 18 starts in just over two weeks!) and I’m still a huge fan of Castle, which ended back in May.
    I also like cop shows that cross over with supernatural genres, like Grimm (which I may have to watch on Netflix from now on, because I need more time to write), and Lucifer, which is one of my obsessions these days.

    1. I haven’t watched Law & Order in ages — I got to interview its creator many years ago, which was cool. Castle’s lead is a Canadian guy, so I’ve been pleased to see its success although I haven’t watched it either.

      1. Good choice. If I didn’t use the computer to write, I’d spend a lot less time in front of a screen as well. At least I still have time to read and think…which usually leads to crazy new ideas for stories, which means more time in front of the screen. What a vicious cycle!

  4. Oooh, I love British shows in general and cop shows in particular. Inspector Lewis, Luther, Prime Suspect, Whitechapel, Inspector George Gently, Wire in the Blood, Vera. Should I go on? No wonder I haven’t gotten much writing done lately!!

  5. I love all of the British shows but haven’t seen the Swedish version of Wallander. Sounds like something to put on my viewing list! I saw something about the Tunnel after one of the PBS Masterpiece programs several months ago – it looks like it will be very good.

  6. If you like bleak, violent, but well plotted and acted cop shows then the Scandewegians are difficult to beat. Often shot in low ket with flattened colours they are immediately recognisable. I wouldn’t recommend Branagh’s Wallander
    but the original Swedish version is excellent.
    The good British shows tended to be less violent but things is changing, and I’m not sure for the better. Maybe it’s my age and the reluctant capacity to imagine some of those things happening to me. At least we haven’t tried to reproduce Olivier’s dental torture of Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man.
    American cop shows don’t get many mentions. My own twopenneth is that the law of diminishing creativity takes place as $ signs and loyal followers lead to milking the original concept dry. Series follow after series and and become more forgettable as they age. Blacklist is a good example of an unusual and interesting plot that has become another vehicle for action mayhem.
    My apologies for ranting but it would take something very special to match the superbly written and acted West Wing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s