What’s the premise?
Within the walls of an interrogation room, investigators across four different countries go up against the clock to charge 12 suspects, each one accused of a grievous crime. Created by George Kay (Killing Eve) and Jim Field Smith (The Wrong Mans), Criminal is split into four mini-series: there are three 45-minute episodes from each of the UK, France, Spain and Germany. Each episode is filmed in the location’s native language, so make sure to switch subtitles on rather than watching the dubbed version you’re automatically presented with. Trust us, this will make for a much more satisfying experience.
The 12 tense episodes are all set in an interrogation suite centred around a sparse room where detectives stare down suspects and spar with legal counsels. From time to time there’s a glimpse behind the vast two-way mirror that looms large in the interrogation suite; or into the police station corridor, where we see detectives grabbing coffee and saying what they can’t say when the interview tape is recording.
The original international format – watch the three British episodes first then move onto the continent – suits a platform like Netflix and the series delivers on its promise of intrigue and nail-biting drama.
Who stars in it?
Away from its unusual format, Criminal really excels in its casting. There’s brilliant acting across the board – the monologues and silent stares across the interrogation table give it the feel of theatre.
The first episode stars David Tennant (Doctor Who, Broadchurch) as Edgar Fallon, a stone-faced doctor accused of sexually abusing and murdering his teenage stepdaughter. We encounter the interrogation at the 23-hour mark, as the investigations team is becoming increasingly desperate to nail him before their 24-hour window is up. Yes, Tennant has the most star pull across the cast, but it’s his character’s storyline and his clipped acting that make this the most impressive episode across the series. It’s a smart way of reeling viewers in.
In the UK series, the tight-knit police unit is led by Detective Inspector Natalie Hobbs (Katherine Kelly of Cheat, The Night Manager and Mr Selfridge). The team is shaken up when Paul, played by a hard-nosed Nicholas Pinnock (Marcella, Fortitude, Top Boy), turns up midway through Fallon’s investigation, ruffling the feathers of up-and-coming investigator Hugo (Mark Stanley from Dark River and Game of Thrones). Shubham Saraf (Bodyguard, Overlord) plays a mysterious newcomer on the team. No one seems to know why he’s there.
The show’s lengthy investigations have drawn comparisons to hit BBC drama Line of Duty – and when you look at the cast, you’ll see another reason for this. Lee Ingleby, who played DCI Roz Huntley’s husband in series four of the drama, and Rochenda Sandall – criminal Lisa McQueen in this year’s series – complete the police unit in the UK.
Hayley Atwell (Captain America, The Avengers) takes centre stage as the lead suspect in episode two, as her combative character is questioned about the poisoning of her sister's partner. In the final UK episode, the department delves into human trafficking. Reticent Jay (Youssef Kerkour of Marcella, Home and Jack Ryan) is in the chair and – at first – declining his right to legal advice. Kerkour makes an indelible impression as a hard-up truck driver who’s suspected of smuggling Syrian refugees into Dover.
Is it any good?
Absolutely. Aside from the cat-and-mouse intricacies of the investigations themselves, we loved the format of the show and the fact that all four locations use the same set, which lends continuity – and an inkling of the uncanny in its unfamiliar familiarity. The three-room set creates a suffocating atmosphere that draws the focus to every intake of breath, flicker of a facial expression and nervous tick, encouraging viewers to turn detective themselves.
This is one to savour rather than binge-watch, as the repetition of the format can prove formulaic if you watch more than three in a row. That said, fans of crime dramas such as Mindhunter, Line of Duty and current ITV series A Confession will love this. A gripping, intelligent watch.
Criminal is available to watch in full on Netflix now