The Red Shadows review – French thriller is a Euro-posh Line of Duty

Nadia Farès stars as a Provençal detective investigating a murder, and her own sister’s disappearance, in a series that’s high on glamour and Gallic hokum

Lannick Gautry and Nadia Farès in The Red Shadows.
Lannick Gautry and Nadia Farès in The Red Shadows. Photograph: Fabien Malot/Channel 4
Lannick Gautry and Nadia Farès in The Red Shadows. Photograph: Fabien Malot/Channel 4
Stuart Jeffries
Mon 14 Dec 2020 01.00 EST

Imagine if Crossroads had been relocated to the south of France and the cast – Benny, Miss Diane and even Amy Turtle – replaced by impossibly beautiful women and men with abs so defined you could slice baguettes with them. Such is the Gallic hokum that is The Red Shadows (Channel 4).

Domaine de Saint-Victoire boasts a hotel, a golf course, glamorous staff and Mediterranean views you don’t get in Selly Oak. It’s so Euro-posh that you expect to see Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon trading Al Pacino impersonations on the terrace.

The Garnier family is selling this estate for €40m. Good news for badass biker Gabriel Garnier and his designer stubble, since his share will pay off the loan sharks. The proceeds might also cheer up Fred, his uptight suit of a hotel manager brother.

It also means their sister – and our hero – Aurore (Nadia Farès) might afford a decent sofa bed for those nights when she can’t bear to sleep with Romain, her buff, philandering louse of a husband and fellow cop. Romain is having it off with his boss at the local police station while his wife is next door selflessly working both a homicide and the case of her own missing sister.

Happily, Aurore is more than a wronged woman. She’s Cagney, Lacey, Juliet Bravo and Spiral’s Laure Berthaud rolled into one. When we first see her she’s just finishing a 20km morning run without breaking sweat. She’s got Katarina Johnson-Thompson’s physique, Columbo’s detecting nous and Prince Andrew’s glands.

The dead man in her murder case, a shady procurer called Pasco Vasquez, had been found in a shallow grave overlooking Marseilles. Who put him there and why? And what is inside the package that the gun-toting villain nicked from Pasco’s pad and then conveniently dropped as he scarpered from Aurore’s flying bullets? Most importantly, where did Aurore learn to strike that fetching silhouette whenever she points her service revolver? Not at Hendon.

At such moments, and there are lots of them, The Red Shadows is funny, but not intentionally so. Like Line of Duty or Law and Order, it takes itself rather seriously. Happily, we don’t have to.

Back at the station, Aurore fires up the age-progression software on her computer. A photo in the package matches the image onscreen of her long-lost sister, Clara. The girls’ mother was murdered 25 years ago by gangsters who later kidnapped Clara during a botched ransom exchange.

After some natty detective work, Aurore tracks Clara (Manon Azem) down in Italy. She is invited to France to meet the Garnier family at a lavish lunch on the biggest terrace in the Bouches-du-Rhône department. They are bunch of stereotypes right down to the obligatory bratty teen, the lemon-sucking patriarch grandad, a cravat-wearing wine bore of an uncle, and a nautical cove of a dad who may well have won Marseille’s Captain Birdseye lookalike contest five years straight.

Perhaps, despite a DNA test proving otherwise, Clara is a gold-digging impostor bent on snaffling the Garnier family fortune. The fact that Pasco called her mobile a week before he died certainly makes Aurore’s eyebrow rise into a questioning circumflex.

Before we can test this hypothesis, lunch is not served. Bullets rake wine glasses with a culinary philistinism that indicates the shooter in the undergrowth is not French. The guests dive for cover, except for Aurore who races towards the gunfire, shooting first and asking questions never. I’m no cop, but surely posing in decorous silhouette inside the sniper’s crosshairs and pointing your piece heavenwards is asking for trouble.

The Red Shadows was a hit last year in France, chiefly, you would think, among viewers who unironically wear sweaters knotted over their shoulders – but not, most likely, among those demonstrating against police violence in Paris recently. Nor among the Marseillais, whose stirringly gritty city has been airbrushed from this drama in favour of such Instagrammable property porn that by episode five the murder suspects will most likely include an British couple doing up the local chateau for a Channel 4 series. It won’t be the British behind this crime wave, obviously, though surely they could be jailed for something.

My hope is that Romain will be convicted for murdering his wife’s mother, conspiring to siphon off the Garnier fortune and ruining a perfectly good lunch. Anyone who turns up to breakfast with no shirt, and betrays a woman so far out of his league it’s not funny, deserves jail time.

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