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Interview: The Tunnel returns to our TV screens

After a successful first run, The Tunnel is back with an original story for the second series. The show’s stars, and writer Ben Richards, tell Keeley Bolger about the new plots, social awkwardness and how a Brexit might affect the future of co-productions

Ben Richards is exasperated at the criticism levelled at his drama The Tunnel, which is a remake of Swedish show The Bridge.

“I was sent season one of The Bridge by a producer, who said, ‘This is an amazing Scandinavian show, no one’s going to watch it, let’s do a remake of it’,” explains the TV writer, also known for his work on Spooks.

“This is why I get p***ed off when people go, ‘Why did they do a remake of a hugely successful Scandinavian import?’ Well, it wasn’t a hugely successful Scandinavian import at the time.

“Pretty much like with Homeland and the Israeli show [it was based on]. Nobody had heard of it before they did the remake.”

But with a loyal following in the UK and France, and a good relationship with Hans Rosenfeldt, the writer of the Swedish original, The Tunnel is firmly established.

Set between England and France, the first series saw French investigator Elise Wassermann (Clemence Poesy) and British detective Karl Roebuck (Stephen Dillane) thrown together in an uneasy alliance, as they attempted to track down a killer who left the upper-half of the body of a French politician, and the lower-half of a British prostitute, in the Channel Tunnel.

With an original story carrying throughout the second series, Richards is keen to further put his stamp on it, admitting that first time around there was “a bit of horse trading” with the broadcaster, who wanted to stay faithful to the original.

Here, Richards and the show’s stars discuss what’s in store…

This series is set a year after the death of Karl’s son at the hands of the self-styled ‘truth terrorist’. Elise and Karl are reunited after a couple are abducted from the Channel Tunnel and their traumatised young daughter is left behind. When a plane carrying British and French passengers crashes into the Channel killing everyone on board, Karl and Elise find themselves with even bigger questions to answer.

“Karl thinks he’s through it [grieving] and he’s able to function again in some way, but maybe, it’s revealed, he’s not quite as on top of things as he thought,” explains Dillane, also recognisable as Stannis in Game Of Thrones.

Elise, meanwhile, has been promoted to a job “she didn’t really want”.

I think something may have opened up since the first season, so she’s a bit more curious and she’s a bit more ready to try a few things,” explains France-born Poesy, 33.

“She’s trying living with a boyfriend, she’s taking managerial courses, but I think deep down, she’s got a sense of guilt since what happened with Karl’s son.”

While Karl is an easy-going, content man, Elise struggles with human interaction. But there was never any doubt in the cast and crew’s minds that they should avoid labelling her behaviour.

“When we first started talking about Elise, the director was quite keen on not making her a medical specimen or defining her symptoms with medical terms,” explains Poesy.

“But it wasn’t my decision. If they had been like, ‘OK, she has Asperger’s, you need to start researching’, I would have done, but it was quite clearly their will to not make her defined by a syndrome.”

A European production with French and British cast and crew, Richards is aware of the potential impact the UK leaving the European Union could have on the series and others like it, although he says he “doesn’t worry about it”.

“I have read that co-productions would be a big casualty of Brexit,” he says. “It’s something to do with the financing. I’m not an expert, but it would be quite complicated.”

Widely known for her role as open-minded Nikki Alexander in Silent Witness – a character “on a permanent quest for justice” – Emilia Fox plays against type as Vanessa, an unscrupulous woman who earns her money in an “appalling” way.

For the British actress, the role was a chance to open up her professional horizons.

“I hope Vanessa challenges people’s preconceptions [of me],” admits the 41-year-old. “It was a challenge to play someone who does, and orchestrates, such outrageous things.”

Although the film is partially shot in France, any stereotypes of leisurely lunches are just that.

“Even when we go to France, I’m afraid wine at lunch is long gone,” Dillane says with a smile.

Not that he’s complaining: these days, he points out, you’re “lucky to get any lunch break”.

“It’s all continuous days now. The money has really taken off and there’s no stopping work; everyone’s sitting there eating out of plastic containers, it’s very uncivilised,” the 58-year-old adds with a grin.

Projects generally have to be completed faster now, which means everyone’s “on the defensive from the beginning”.

“It’s quite a stressful experience to get the thing done,” Dillane admits. “It would be nice to have a more leisurely approach. ‘Thinking time’ would be helpful, just the opportunity to really think things through, as you’re on the hoof a bit.”

The Tunnel: Sabotage begins on Tuesday, April 12 on Sky Atlantic

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