Up until recently the big thing in British TV was American drama. The quality of shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Wire lead to the buying up of every programme coming out of the US, and the eventual homegrown imitation of the style, with shows like The Hour and Inside Men.
Now, the trend in the UK is for all things European, with the success of The Killing and Borgen heavily influencing ITV and BBC shows like Broadchurch and Mayday. Channel 4, having learned the lesson from its failed import of the US version of The Killing, has now gone straight to the source and imported the French drama The Returned (Les Revenants) just months after it aired on the continent.
Having watched the first episode, it looks like they’ve made a good decision – and quite a brave one, to put a subtitled show on so prominently at 9pm Sunday, the same slot they used for Homeland.
The Returned starts with a bus crash that kills the schoolchildren and teachers on board. Four years later, the dead (a variety of dead people, not just those from the bus crash) show up, unaged and unaware of where they’ve been, and make contact with their families. Meanwhile, strange goings on are affecting the town, as power cuts hit, the water reservoir level falls, and a guy starts stabbing people in walkways.
It is a very prettily shot drama, with captivating images and a very suspenseful and at times genuinely frightening tone. The music, composed by the Scottish band Mogwai, is creepy and haunting and really adds to the atmosphere of the show.
Judging by the episode titles, each hour will focus on a different returned dead person, with this first centring on Camille, who returns to her shocked mother and now grown up twin sister. The performances are all good in this episode, as characters reacts with a realistic variety of bafflement, pleasure, denial and fear upon seeing the dead return. I could though maybe do without the sub-plot around Camille’s sister having sex with the guy Camille likes, which I fear will be dragged out over multiple episodes, exploring the sister’s guilt, and could descend into melodrama.
Other returned dead in the episode are Simon – who seeks out his fiancé, who has a new partner now – and a woman whose now elderly husband can’t deal with her reappearance, burning the house down with her inside before killing himself. Then there’s Victor, a small boy who doesn’t speak. His scenes where amongst the scariest in the episode, and some of the shots involving him were just awesome to look at. The directing is really enjoyable, from the captivating title sequence onwards.
It’s also good to see a show that can be scary without relying on shock factor – see, for instance, the scene in this episode where Camille knocks on her sister’s bedroom wall and the camera swings round towards the door, followed by the turning of the door handle. We know Camille isn’t malevolent, and yet the scene still puts you on edge.
If I had one major reservation at this stage (besides it being very hard to follow at times) it is that we’ve been shown very little so far in terms of plot or much of the characterisation. It’s easier to take a little fraction of a show and draw it out over an hour of pretty visuals than it is to fully introduce a show in 60 minutes and keep it interesting throughout. It’s perfectly possible that The Returned could start falling apart later in the series, despite this first episode looking great, because much of the show has been held back.
That said, according to the Radio Times, The Returned was well received in the French press. There’s enough in this first episode I think to intrigue most people, even those resistant to a subtitled TV show (although, The Guardian says we all love subtitles now anyway). I’m a little concerned about how things will turn out once the supernatural element becomes more and more overt, but right now I’m looking forward to the next episode.
- The scenes with Camille and her family were really quite powerful at times.
- I liked Anne Consigny as Camille’s mother Claire. The shock everytime she sees her returned daughter, still there and not a figment, was nicely conveyed.
- Julie phones the police and then hangs up. You can’t really do this, right? It happens all the time in film but I would have thought you can’t just hang up on a 999 call (or French equivalent) and the police be all ‘Oh, it was probably nothing. I’ll forget all about it.’
- Out of all the characters, I’m probably looking forward to seeing more Victor and Julie at this point.
- The body of Mr Costa’s wife never showed up in the fire. Probably something worth noting.
- People keep referring to this as a zombie show but judging from the first episode I don’t think that’s appropriate. Back from the dead, yes, but they lack most of the traits of zombies. Call me a traditionalist, but I prefer my zombies to be monsters who eat humans.