Clemence Poesy and Stephen Dillane Talk 'The Tunnel's' Tough Political Questions

'The Tunnel'

"It challenges viewers," Dillane told THR about the series' serious themes.

PARIS – A body is dumped on the border between two countries, and detectives from both sides of the dividing line must come together to investigate the murder and the politically motivated serial killer behind it. If the plot seems similar to the Texas-set series The Bridge on FX, that's because it is. Both are remakes of the Danish-Swedish series Bron, which has been an international hit.

In this case, the body is a politician and the investigators are the decidedly untroubled English detective Karl Roebuck, played by Stephen Dillane (Game of Thrones), and his Aspergers-afflicted French counterpart Elise Wassermann, played by Clemence Poesy (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire).

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And though this version takes much of the first episode’s plot from the original Scandinavian show, the writers were sure to develop its own world and focus on issues that directly touch England and France. Set on slow-burn and with a theme song sung by iconic French chanteuse Charlotte Gainsbourg, the languorous pace is meant to bring viewers along without rushing headfirst into murder-of-the-week territory. “It’s got a very unique rhythm. It’s not moving really fast towards solutions, which makes it unusual. It’s about how life can be a bit blurry,” says Poesy with a bit of characteristic French philosophy.

Dillane was attracted by the tough political questions raised by the series, which he frames as a “European dystopia” woven throughout the storyline. “It’s a different approach, more of a novelistic telling,” he says. “If the thriller plot is strong enough, viewers come back and get this stuff by the way.”

“A year ago we were staring down the barrel of the possible collapse [in several countries]," Dillane said. "There’s been this ongoing question because of the economic crisis about immigration. There’s a sense of a kind of crisis of capitalism where mass unemployment is returning and very high youth unemployment, so there’s a sense of sort of an underclass developing.”

Writer-director Dominik Moll has not shied away from tackling tough political topics. "These issues are all around and I think that the writers have taken them on and then are putting them in the mouth of somebody who is essentially a serial killer," said Dillane.

“It challenges viewers, I couldn’t say exactly what the nature of that challenge is though. In a film, you can go, ‘This is going to be over in an hour or so,’ but in television, you revisit a world even if it is uncomfortable because you are interested in the characters, and here you face the issues presented as well," he said.

“It does feel like the writing on television has become so strong that it’s often what keeps you up late,” says Poesy, who admits to being a binge watcher. “Whether you’re telling a story on television or cinema it doesn’t matter anymore.  Television can challenge, and this show was allowed the time to develop a strong and independent universe and bring that to viewers.”

The notion that the off-beat pace and politically intricate plot might put off viewers is not one that either actor entertains, nor is the idea that this is the first bilingual series shot in both English and French.

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“To say that viewers wouldn’t watch a bilingual series before, who knows?” asks Poesy, noting the increasing intelligence of the drama viewer in a world where entertainment knows no borders. Indeed, French viewers are watching more English-language shows as day-and-date debuts of popular series are streamed on SVoD cable service providers, while British viewers made hits out of French thriller Les Revenants, Scandinavian hits The Killing, Borgen and of course The Tunnel’s inspiration, Bron. “Maybe it wasn’t offered to them. You never really know if people would have accepted it before. You never know until you do it.”

While neither actor would cop to seeing either the original or the American version, they see the story as universal and endlessly exportable. Says Posey: “I’d be really curious to see a Chinese take on it.”

Co-produced by Shine International and Canal Plus, The Tunnel premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on Sky Atlantic in the U.K. and is scheduled for a Nov. release on Canal Plus in France.