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Hot French crime drama – Spiral

If you haven't yet discovered this gritty Paris cop series with a strong female lead get bingeing now! Muddy Sussex Ed, Debbie, gives the low-down.

Since the new year I’ve been pottering round the house swearing emphatically in French to myself. It’s nothing to do with back-to-work blues, it’s because after a wait of over a year Spiral is back on BBC 4.

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Caroline Proust as Laure Berthaud in Spiral – Series 6. Son et Lumière/Canal+ Photographer: Caroline Dubois

I was a relatively late adopter of this brilliant Paris-based crime series, now on it’s sixth outing, but I’m now a huge fan. I got into it a couple of series ago, then binged on the box set, filling in some of the back story and watching the cast suddenly strangely younger. If you haven’t discovered it yet I strongly recommend you do the same. Here’s why…

Spiral is called Engrenages in French – which, my husband (whose command of the language is infinitely better than mine) tells me would translate better as something like ‘cogs’ or ‘gears’. The plots generally start out with the discovery of a murder victim (a torso in a holdall this time) but become increasingly complex and intertwined.

We’re not talking your standard solo serial killer set-up here – there’ll be something like international drug dealers, motorcycle mugging squads or prostitution trafficking rings involved. All this takes its time to unfold with the police team mounting stake outs, facing frustrations with legal bureaucracy and office politics, and using plenty of creative swearing. It’s gritty and realistic (though some of the more dodgy police methods may make you wince).

Son et Lumière/Canal+ Photographer: Caroline Dubois

Besides the great storylines, the other reason I love Spiral is the strong female lead. The central character is Laure, a dedicated police captain in charge of a mainly male squad who is not afraid to go after what she wants, whether that be a killer or a sexy new solicitor.

She’s not running about in improbable heels with freshly applied lipstick – she’s rarely out of jeans and has permanently scragged back hair. Best of all, the writers of Spiral just get on with it without constantly reminding us – ‘hey look, she’s a woman and she’s in charge… ooh she’s a woman in a male-dominated environment!’ In a similar way, the disability of a character in one series was never mentioned because, guess what? It was irrelevant to the plot. How refreshing.

‘Tintin’ in Spiral. Son et Lumière/Canal+ Photographer: Caroline Dubois

This series may be a little different as, having spent the last one unexpectedly and grumpily pregnant – by either a) the colleague she’d acrimoniously split with or b) her old flame who was killed diffusing a bomb – Laure wound up in hospital with serious stab wounds, her baby fighting for its life.

Other key characters are…

Gilou: In Laure’s team and secretly in love with her. The pair are close but in the last series when he offered to help her bring up her baby she pretty much laughed in his face – awkward. Poor Gilou. Always making bad judgements, he’s had a string of unsuitable relationships instead, with women, with informants and with drugs.

Tintin: Another of Laure’s close colleagues – a family man facing a divorce from his wife over his job.

Judge Roban: Sometime ally of Laure’s, he is obsessed with fighting corruption, which has made him unpopular with his bosses and cost him the love of his life.

Josephine Karlsson (Audrey Fleurot). Son et Lumière/Canal+ Photographer: Caroline Dubois

Josephine: another strong female character. This spiky, foxy and ruthlessly effective solicitor had a troubled childhood which has led to her hating the police. Often in opposition to Laure, she has relaxed morals about who she works for and defends.

Sadly, last series we lost the gorgeous Pierre – all-round good guy solictior who had recently got into a chalk-and-cheese relationship with Josephine (look back at the box sets and sigh). Josephine is still reeling from the shock, as are we all.

One thing you need to know about the French legal system to save early confusion is that the judges get a lot more involved in police investigations, even directing them to a certain extent. They also sometimes bring the victim and the accused together for a confrontation in their chambers before a trail is set. Tense stuff.

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Judge Roban. Son et Lumière/Canal+ Photographer: Caroline Dubois

A word of warning too about the crime and autopsy scenes in Spiral – they can be pretty graphic, so you might want to watch those bits through your fingers if you don’t want to lose your dinner.

Whatever you do, do give it a go though. C’est manifique!

Spiral is currently on BBC 4 at 9.00pm on Saturday nights with a weekly double bill and is also available on iplayerWatch the trailer here:

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