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Top Ten Foreign Crime Shows

It doesn’t take Sherlockian levels of intuition and detective work to notice that there’s been a real surge in quality foreign crime television on our screens of late. We no longer have to rely solely on UK and American shows to keep us glued to our TVs. In celebration of these brilliant new offerings from other climes, we’ve run through ten of the best crime shows that had to show their passports before they reached British screens.

10. Braquo

‘The French Wire‘ is perhaps a rather simplistic way to describe Braquo – but nonetheless it’s a pretty accurate one. Shown over here on the FX channel, this grimy and often quite savage outing sees low-down dirty criminals being chased by even lower-down and dirtier cops. As you’d expect from a French crime drama, you can barely see the characters’ faces through the thick fug of Gauloise smoke, which adds an extra hint of realism to an already frighteningly realistic drama. Seriously, criminally good.

9. Matrioshki

Another excellent Gallic crime series that aired on FX, this time from Belgium, Matrioshki is also known by the rather less enigmatic – but easier to spell – title of ‘Russian Dolls: Sex Trade’. As its alternative title suggests, we’re invited into the troubling world of human trafficking and forced prostitution. Season one follows a group of young Lithuanian women who are recruited to work as ‘dancers’ by a Belgian gang. It’s not long before they realise that their job description wasn’t fully explained to them. Disturbing but enlightening stuff – who knew Flemish TV could be so gripping?

8. Those Who Kill

In the last few years there’s been a real explosion of top drawer crime fiction from Scandinavia, with Steig Larsson and Jo Nesbø dominating bookshelves and shows like The Killing and The Bridge on our TVs. Another excellent police series from the great Danes comes in the form of Those Who Kill, a Copenhagen-set thriller shown here in Britain on ITV3. A second series wasn’t commissioned after disappointing viewing figures, but it’s an underrated gem. TV execs in the US certainly agree – a remake starring indie darling Chloe Sevigny is pencilled in for later in the year.

7. Inspector Montalbano

Andrea Camilleri’s books about the escapades of ‘renegade’ (of course!) Sicilian Commissario Salvo Montalbano have entertained Italian readers for years. And now Camilleri’s stories entertain telly fans across Europe with their tight plots, beautiful backdrops and nicely paced action scenes. Although a lot more light-hearted than most of the shows on this list, Montalbano’s antics on BBC Four never veer into parody. That’s not to say that it isn’t without its funny moments, though… Buono!

6. Spiral

Shown on BBC Four over here, this French police procedural paints a murky picture of corruption and dodgy dealings in the tangled maze of the French judicial system. We follow a police captain, two of her lieutenants, a judge, a prosecutor and a lawyer throughout four series, each concentrating on the events surrounding a particularly grisly murder. Spiral‘s not the easiest watch on the box, but it’s more than worth the effort. Classy stuff.

5. Romanzo Criminale

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Unless it’s the Rome of the 1970s and you’re surrounded by warring terrorist factions and ruthless criminal organisations, that is. Set against the backdrop of Italy’s tumultuous ‘Years of Lead’, we watch the rise and fall of the violent Far Right-aligned gang ‘Banda della Magliana’. Shown on Sky Arts in this country, Romanzo Criminale is particularly impressive in its minutiae – the detail that went into the clothes and sets really is quite astounding. Molto buono!

4. Arne Dahl

Another top drama from Scandinavia, this time Sweden, Arne Dahl isn’t a Manchester shopping centre but a noir-ish series of tales about an elite team of super sleuth detectives tracking down twisted serial killers. Named after the pseudonym of the author of the books the show’s based on, Arne Dahl is dark viewing at times, as you’d expect, but still a great watch. A must-watch for fans of The Killing, et al.

3. Wallander

You can be forgiven for thinking of thesping legend Kenneth Branagh when this show’s name is mentioned, but the Wallander he appears in is a remake of a Swedish series of the same name. Based on Henning Mankell’s Inspector Kurt Wallander novels, weirdly the first series debuted in cinemas – episodes are feature length – and on DVD. However, the second and third seasons hit the small screen. A dark and moody offering, Wallander brings us cold-hearted crimes in even colder climes. It’s not always easy to watch, but it’s always worth it.

2. Underbelly

Otherwise known as ‘The Australian Sopranos‘, Underbelly details the real-life street battle between two sets of Melbourne-based gangsters and has often been described as ‘Australia’s best ever crime drama’. Now, we know that some great films are made Down Under, but with most of our exposure to Aussie TV involving dodgy lunchtime soaps, Underbelly really was a refreshing change. Well, as ‘refreshing’ as beatings, drug deals and numerous horrible murders can be, anyway!

1. The Killing

Forbryldelsen‘ as it’s known in its native Denmark is – without doubt – a sensation. Not many European shows can lay claim to BAFTAs and Emmys, novelisations and US remakes. We’ve also got The Killing to thanks for the current wave of subtitled crime dramas that we enjoy today too, for without the huge success of the police procedural series TV commissioners surely wouldn’t have given so many other shows the green light. Detective Inspector Sarah Lund, famous for her chunky knitwear, leads series-long investigations into murders where there’s more to it than meets the eye (well, if there wasn’t it’d be difficult to get 20 episodes out of them). It’s a testament to just how good The Killing is when you consider that it’s been shown in a staggering 120 countries…
What do you make of our list of our top ten foreign crime shows? Is it Dead Good? Or should we be ruthlessly hunted down for scandalously missing a top programme?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

11 Comments

    I have just finished watching all eight series of SPIRAL! Fantastic ! I am bereft as to what to watch now!!

    Those who kill… I have to admit I prefer series of 5-8 episodes,assuming it’s done right can very engaging…. Those who kill at 2 episodes per crime is cutting it close for me. Otherwise it reminds me of Law & Order (US) which solves in one episode, not a fan. Check out Bordertown (Netflix), excellent!!

    I agree The Bridge was fantastic, just finished watching series 4. Also enjoyed DNA and Inspector Borowski

    Definitely Top of the Lake and Bron – Broen (the Bridge original version).
    I didn’t like Those who kill at all however. Increadibly contrived and just not credible.

    Hard to limit to 10, but I was surprised not to see Varg Veum on the list.

    TOP OF THE LAKE
    Pregnant 12yo goes missing.
    No one knows who got her pregnant.

    TOP OF THE LAKE

    Just watched all 7 episodes last week and it was excellent.

    Just a notch below “The Killing” but of the same nature without the humor (unfortunately).

    Great list. I agree with all the ones I have seen and am fascinated to discover some I haven’t. Hope they are available to view somewhere. For your next list how about Ten Books that haven’t been televised/filmed but should be. Speaking of Australian books/series I’d love to see Peter Temple’s The Broken Shore on screen.

    It’s difficult to list only 10 but ‘The Bridge’ or ‘Broen’ would have definitely made my top 10.

    Amazing series due to be re-serialised in English…..Saga has to be one of the best female crime fiction characters of all time.

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