Sky Atlantic are really stepping up when it comes to interesting Euro imports, and really competing with the big boys Walter Presents on Channel 4 and good old BBC4. Midnight Sun from Sweden was seriously amazing. Their latest offering is a dark drama that was hugely successful in its home territory of Belgium, and it soon becomes clear why. When a convicted child killer Guy Beranger (Angelo Bison) is released from prison on probation, the monks of Vielsart Abbey offer him sanctuary in a small village in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest. Creepy Guy is placed under the protection of a young Federal Police inspector, Chloé Muller (Stéphanie Blanchoud), who is herself haunted by nightmares of childhood trauma. Despite clearly not being mentally fit enough for this duty young Chloé is to be his babysitter.
Creepy Guy was convicted of five murders in 1990s. These were extremely high profile killings, mainly it seems of children, and he’s not been forgotten. On the way into the up into the forest we’re greeted with angry protests from Vielsart villagers and quite a few of the abbey monks. Father Abbot is on side, all about the Christian charity and forgiveness. Even among his own brothers he’s not made a popular decision. Will he be ousted because of this or will he teach his brothers that forgiveness isn’t easy but is always necessary?
Brother Lucas (Clément Manuel) is the young monk with the hipster beard, way less suspicious than his brethren. Chloé seems to fancy him, or maybe she’s just lonely stuck amongst these old men she has nothing in common with, and Guy certainly admires him. He’s going to be key to both their lives. Chloé is to live in the abbey, fairly unwillingly; her first act on arriving in her little room is to remove the wooden cross from above her door.
Vielsart was a sleepy little town, with little for the local cops to do. Oh boy, is that going to change, and fast. And as in so many Euro imports change is signified by an impending development plan, now under threat. The local brewer and publican Patrick Stassart (Philippe Jeusette) is a busy body – a sort-of unofficial mayor who knows everyone’s business. He’s looking for investors for Abbey Ale. He’s worried that the village’s new infamous resident may put them off. Patrick seems like a a frustrated and angry man anyway, so this set-back won’t be easy on him or his family.
The farmer who supplies the abbey with food has a young and willful daughter Noemie. She meets Guy in a very tense scene – the music reaches a thunderous crescendo as their eyes meet across the garden. In that psychopathic Hannibal Lecter style Guy is nice to her, and talks to her about her rubik’s cube that she seems to carry everywhere. He, of course, receives a punch in the face from her father in return. Really it was a silly risk taking your kid to visit the new home of a murderer. Angelo Bison is fantastic as the ever watchful Guy – with a dark intense stare, his eyes slightly too close together, like a sinister owl peeking over the top of his black polo-neck uniform.
When Noemie goes missing (which of course she does, and on Guy’s first night in town!) we have a whole new set of problems for a fractured village, and more worries for Patrick and his flagging PR push. He’s also dealing with his idiot brother Vincent who seems to be a well-armed low-level drug dealer, now acting crazy because the police are all over the place. The whole village is rippling with anger and fear. These people will be along the road with torches and pitchforks soon enough.
As you’d expect from Euro noir it’s horror and fear set in beautiful scenery. To my English eyes the rambling grey stone houses look like Yorkshire set among deep Scottish pine forests. And the monk’s singing is beautiful too. I don’t often notice music in tv shows, but it’s at the forefront here in a number of important scenes.
Unusually for dark disturbing dramas Public Enemy moves along at a cracking pace like it’s in a race to the finish line. It was difficult for me to make notes and keep up with the subtitles. There’s no fear of getting bored here. And without adverts (hooray!) each episode comes in well under an hour so makes the whole series very watchable.
Back to Chloé for a moment – her steely gaze, very high forehead and interesting tribute to Elvis’ coiffure going on there. Is she there to protect Guy, as he thinks, or the people around him? Will she tempt Lucas away from his calling? Why on earth has she been chosen for this duty? She’s suffering mentally – crying while gathering evidence in little Noemie’s room, hallucinating events and people from her past, and permanently on the verge of a panic attack. She’s having a worse time than even Sarah Lund managed and this is only episode one. For this reason alone Public Enemy might be best viewed from behind a cushion. I think it’s going to be pretty damn devastating.
PUBLIC ENEMY is released on DVD Box Set on Monday 17th July by Nordic Noir & Beyond
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