TV blog: Baptiste

Benjie Goodhart / 15 February 2019

A gripping new Sunday night drama series, plus the best of the rest of the week ahead.

Baptiste, Sunday 17th February, 9pm, BBC One

This new drama series is about as European as it gets. It’s so European, it makes Anna Soubry look like Boris Johnson. It’s about a French policeman on holiday in Amsterdam investigating the disappearance of an English girl suspected of being kidnapped by a Romanian gang. It’s written by a couple of Brits, helmed by an Icelandic director, and starring a Frenchman born in Turkey to a Greek mother and a Sephardic Jewish father with origins in Spain. The first episode alone contains dialogue in English, Dutch, French and Romanian (don’t worry, there are subtitles, you’re not expected to be a UN translator to enjoy the series).

It’s written by brothers Harry and Jack Williams, who were the brains behind two series of The Missing on BBC One. In point of fact, this is a sequel. Well, a sequel to the sequel. A trequel? The eponymous hero is Julien Baptiste, the cerebral, limping, retired Gallic detective from The Missing played by the excellent Tchéky Karyo.

The action opens at a seaside cottage in Deal, Kent. A cheerful, avuncular old fellow returns home from a bracing beach stroll, to be met by a Romanian man who announces he needs to read the meter. When people call round to read the meter in a police drama, things are only ever heading in one direction, and so it proves.

Meanwhile, Julien Baptiste and his wife are on holiday in Amsterdam. They are visiting their daughter, who has just had her first child. Obviously there is nothing in the world to compare to the joy of one’s first grandchild as it screams and pukes and poops its way through the first few months of its life, so Baptiste agrees with something approaching alacrity to the request from the local police to help them with a case. The fact that the Police Commissioner is an old flame is, of course, neither here nor there.

A local sex worker, Natalie Rose, has gone missing. Her uncle, Edward Stratton (Tom Hollander), who has looked after her since she was 14, when her parents were killed in a car accident, is beside himself with worry. As always, Tom Hollander is brilliant. Ever since seeing his remarkable turn as Dylan Thomas in A Poet in New York, I can’t stop imagining Hollander is exceptionally drunk in every scene, which is slightly off-putting, especially here, where his desperation has reduced him to a shambolic, confused figure. He and Baptiste start trawling the Red Light district. It has to be said, looking for a sex worker in the Red Light district of Amsterdam is a little like looking for a grain of sand on Palm Beach, or a bloke with a large beard and tattoos in East London.

Meanwhile, other characters begin to emerge. There is a couple who run a café and seem to be involved in helping some of the sex workers. There are the two Romanian gangsters, who, well, don’t seem to be helping anyone much (unless you consider random acts of brutality to be helpful). And there’s a Dutchman who runs a tulip farm – yes, seriously. It’s a bit like watching a Dutch drama where the Brits are all portrayed as emotionally-repressed characters in three-piece suits and bowler hats.

I can’t go into much more detail without giving away key plot details, so I’ll leave it there. As ever with a police drama, it’s so difficult to know whether this will be any good or not. It’s easy enough to set up a decent thriller – you just need a few mysterious characters, a whole lot of subterfuge and obfuscation, some atmospheric music and a big fat twist at the end of episode one. You’ve got that all here. But the real skill is in tying it all together, and bringing matters to a satisfactory conclusion. It’s impossible to say, on the basis of episode one. But if the two series of The Missing are anything to go by, Jack and Harry Williams are more than capable of delivering. And the twist at the end of the first episode – actually, the two twists – are absolute belters.

The best… and the rest

Sunday 17th February

Traitors, 9pm, Channel 4: Emma Appleton and Keeley Hawes (the woman is EVERYWHERE, how does she have time to eat???) star in this new six-part spy thriller set in London in 1945, with seismic forces at work.

Monday 18th February

Generation Gifted 1/6, 9pm, BBC Two: Return of the documentary following six academically gifted teenagers from low-income families.

Wednesday 20th February

The Brit Awards 2019, 8pm, ITV: Jack Whitehall presents coverage of the music awards from the O2 Arena.

Friday 22nd February

Gogglebox, 9pm, Channel 4: Hurrah! Thank goodness! The show watching other people watching telly is back for series three squillion, and it’s as enchanting as ever.




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