Final season of The Tunnel can't escape Brexit chaos

The final series of the cross-channel drama can’t escape the shadow of Brexit, writes Gemma Dunn.

If you thought The Tunnel did a stellar job depicting crisis-ridden Europe in its first two seasons, trust us when we say you won’t want to miss its third and final dose.

In what’s been a turbulent year for the continent — think post-Brexit Britain, hysteria surrounding refugees and the growth in far-right power — the Scandi-noir thriller, this time subtitled “Vengeance”, is teeming with themes that question the value of life.

“It’s pertinent at the moment, isn’t it?” begins Stephen Dillane, 60, who will reprise his role as British detective Karl Roebuck, alongside French detective Elise Wassermann (played by Clemence Poesy).

“How do we judge whose life is more valuable than someone else’s? The refugee theme is one of the ways to ask that question, as far as a series like this can ask those big questions.”

Initially a remake of the hit TV series The Bridge, Sky Atlantic’s The Tunnel — for those in need of a reminder — started its run in 2013, with a plot that saw the officers forced together following the grim discovery of body parts in the midpoint of the Channel Tunnel.

The second series, named The Tunnel: Sabotage, followed suit with the meeting-in-the-middle crime drama focused on the crash of an airliner into the English Channel.

The third? The unlikely detective duo’s curtain call comes when a stolen French fishing boat is found adrift and on fire in the English Channel — but there’s more cause for alarm after it’s suspected the missing cargo consisted of trafficked children.

While it’s an upsetting subject, the refugee crisis is one that cannot be ignored, reasons Clemence.

“I think we have to. You can’t shoot here and not talk about it,” she says, having filmed much of the six episodes on location in Kent, including the Channel Tunnel and Folkestone Harbour.

“We all very much felt it last season; things were just getting into different proportions and it’s one of the things that influences politics in both countries in a massive way.

“But it’s tricky really to get into the subject,” realises the Harry Potter actress, 35. “You need much more than what we’re doing.”

Will the series take on a new meaning following the Brexit vote too?

“I suppose for people watching, it does,” muses London-born Dillane, soon to be seen in a Beckett play at the Everyman in Cork. 

“I’m sure it’s got a different flavour like everything’s got a different flavour, hasn’t it?

“But particularly because it’s shot here on the border, and particularly because it’s shot with the French, it feels like it has another tone to it,” he continues. 

“It’s odd. We were filming over in France and it’s astonishing how clear the white cliffs are. [You can see them] much more clearly than you can see France from England. I wonder if that’s had a psychological impact on the Brexit vote!”

“I was curious how they were going to deal with the Brexit thing,” recalls Poesy, who was in her native France at the time of the EU referendum. “I think they went for a more metaphorical approach.”

Poesy is happy that the relationship with her character’s fellow detective has no romantic implications, she follows: “That’s my favourite thing about the show - that relationship possibility about friendship, which I think is often not talked about in fiction.

“I love that it’s stayed that and it’s been my favourite thing to do, really. Telling that story.”

“It opens up different angles on things,” agrees Dillane, who won an International Emmy award for his portrayal of Karl. 

“It just means you can talk to each other in a different way. It is what it is.

“I imagine from [Poesy’s] perspective that it might be more of relief that it is for me. I’m sure she’s continually cast as somebody’s girlfriend, so it’s probably very nice for her.”

Is he, too, sorry to bid the show au revoir?

“It seems to hang very much on the relationship between Karl and Elise and there is only so far you can take that,” responds the Game Of Thrones star. 

“So I think it’s time. I’m sad thinking about the whole thing though]” he adds.

As for what he’s enjoyed most: “Working down here, working with the French,” he says with a smile. “The scripts have been pretty good and working with Clemence has been a pure delight.

“It’s just been one of those really pleasant experiences.”

The Tunnel returns to Sky Atlantic next Thursday, December 14


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