sun 18/03/2018

Witnesses: A Frozen Death finale, BBC Four review - weirdo childbirth cult hits the buffers | reviews, news & interviews

Witnesses: A Frozen Death finale, BBC Four review - weirdo childbirth cult hits the buffers

Witnesses: A Frozen Death finale, BBC Four review - weirdo childbirth cult hits the buffers

The French chiller reaches its ghoulish climax

Saving the children: Catherine (Audrey Fleurot) and Sandra (Marie Diompnier)

It’s remarkable how pervasive the Scandi-noir formula has become, with its penchant for weird and perverted killers, labyrinthine plotting and intriguingly flawed protagonists. The French-made Witnesses: A Frozen Death was another fragment chipped off that Nordic iceberg, though it developed its own particular character thanks to strength in depth in the casting and a strong visual signature which fully exploited moody, melancholy locations in northern France.

Absorbing as it was, A Frozen Death did little to promote optimism about human nature. There are plenty of miserable real-life stories about abused women and abducted children, so it feels more than a trifle masochistic to sit down and subject oneself to more of it on the telly (Sky Atlantic’s new series of The Tunnel is heading in the same direction, and the two shows even have a French child actor in common). The theme here was particularly diabolical, featuring a bizarre cult that punished what it considered to be irresponsible parenting by kidnapping, “marrying” and forcibly impregnating women, whose own faithless lovers had been mass-murdered (not to mention deep-frozen). The resulting children were then kept in a kind of squalid coven living in decrepit caravans and a rambling derelict building.

The piece sought to generate for itself a kind of supernatural force by planting its roots in the bleak history of a children’s orphanage at Mont Saint-Michel (pictured right), the ancient commune off the Normandy coast which has been both fortress and prison in its chequered history. Catherine (Audrey Fleurot), feverishly trying to track down her own baby, spent some time in the Mont Saint-Michel library, poring over dusty tomes of ancient myths and legends which had once been perused by the children (including the show’s recurring poem about crazed mothers dropping their offspring). The child-abducting mastermind had adopted the symbol of the Minotaur, the classical beast which devoured human sacrifices delivered to him in his labyrinth. The Mont itself offered scope for some breathtaking aerial photography and landscape shots.

All this bogus mythologising was just camouflage for a bunch of repulsive freaks whose real ancestors were people like Myra Hindley and Jeffrey Dahmer, though perhaps a spot of medieval-style retribution involving disembowelling or red-hot implements might have been their most suitable reward. It was disappointing that the abductor-in-chief was allowed uninterrupted airtime to deliver his crackpot rants without being interrupted by a blunt instrument.

Pitched against these loathsome forces of darkness was our plucky detective-single mom Sandra Winckler, played with great empathy and determination by Marie Dompnier. True, she was prone to triggering most of the usual maverick-cop booby-traps – she systematically ignored every order from her superiors yet wasn’t sacked, and setting herself up as bait for the killer with no back-up is surely number one with a bullet on the Crass Policing Blunders chart. And, like Morse, Saga Norén and heaven knows how many more, she drives an amusingly antique car instead of the off-the-peg hatchbacks issued to everybody else. Oddly, so does her cuddly cop-partner Justin (Jan Hammenecker), who clanks around the landscape in a rickety Cadillac.

Despite its aura of downbeat verité, depicting the suburbs and wind-farms of northern France in all their unlovely functionality, Witnesses was quite happy to abandon logic when it felt like it. The way the killer managed to abduct, imprison, murder and freeze so many victims in so little time was beyond supernatural. The murderous nutter Geir Jansen (Yannick Choirat, pictured above) was time and again able to avoid detection despite spending much of his time strolling around in plain sight of the police. He was also strangely resistant to bullets and zombiehood-evoking drugs.

Still, it made for addictive viewing, albeit in frequently dubious taste. I fear things are only bound to get worse in Series 3.



they seem to make it up from episode to episode. no logic . no real continuity . certainly no police procedure

By the time we reached episode 6 I was beginning to feel these two stupid women deserved to be locked up! Who drives around with a vulnerable woman for two days and her carers do nothing. Car jacking went unreported and what happened to backup! Might have saved a few lives. This stupidity turned me off by the last episode by which time I didn't care if they were locked up. But then the whole story was very much you have to be kidding me.

I enoyed it, although it became increasingly silly, but in the last episode, Catherine's missing son suddenly became a missing daughter in her conversations. How did they manage that oversight!

I thought I had imagined that! Huge oversight.

Perhaps something to do with the subtitler. Enfant, a child, is masculine even if it's a girl. If you don't know a child's gender, you always call it 'il', him. She probably didn't know its gender until Gloria told her.

Tell me who is Gloria? I tried to watch this season so carefully, but then had no idea who she was!

I mean, once Sandra had access to a phone she'd call for backup... Yes?.....

I cannot understand how all the professionals, actors and technicians, involved in this production can gain any satisfaction from this ridiculous story line. How can this script be considered worthy of financial investment. Such are the wonders of the media industry. I wasted hours of my life, foolish me.

I was really looking forward to this second series of Temoins/Witnesses and enjoyed it up until ep5. But by the end I was completely flummoxed, and agree with all the comments previously posted. I can just about get, if not understand, the formation of the cult by some madman, but I can't work out the Geir Jansen relationship with them or his motives in creating false relationships with women before then fathering and stealing their babies! And then go on to kill the women, or have them killed. Seems to me that multiple writers wanted different plot lines and in an attempt to appease them all the producers let them each have their own little bit - but time ran out before they were tied together! Implausible? More plausible than the end of the series!

I love the series, still got a couple of episodes to watch, but I wholeheartedly agree with the commentary, as the story unfolds, I am starting to think it's a bit far fetched, especially Sandra's attitude who walks straight into a trap without asking for back up or even mentioning to Catherine where she is going! The acting is very good though and had me on the edge of my seat.

A more stupid series would be hard to imagine! As has been mentioned, a boy baby suddenly becomes a girl baby, no-one ever has to put fuel in their car, nor top up their phones which always work whether underground or surrounded by thick walls. It was never really explained why men had to be frozen, babies had to be given away, women had to be drugged and raped, nor why several adults felt compelled to carry out all these horrendous actions. I really resent such puerile stuff being bought by the BBC.

Agree! Have just watched on catch up, feeling a bit silly for bothering. Re phones, as everyone’s phone seemed to be on and connected at all times, why wasn’t anyone traced by their signal? Or did I miss a bit?

Series 3? Forget it. Never, ever again will I waste my precious time on such an insult to my intelligence. After an intriguing start that held my attention, it eventually went right off the rails. I hung in there until the end, more fool me. But never again. Basically, I need to believe in the story line (albeit with suspended disbelief) and then care about the characters. Sadly, this was too much to ask.

People are confusing grammatical gender with biological sex. Plot holes there may be, but the baby changing sex is not one of them. When Catherine wakes up in the car she asks, 'Où est-il?', i.e., 'Where is it?', the baby, the child, not 'Where is he?'. At this point she knows she has had a baby which has been taken away from her, but not its sex, and only ever refers to 'mon bébé', 'mon enfant', not 'mon fils' (my son). Unfortunately the sub-titles translate 'il' as 'he', which causes the confusion, though they are more careful when Catherine meets Atticus, and use 'it' for the child until (IIRC) Atticus says something like, 'It's not up to you, it's up to her', revealing the child's sex. From this point Catherine refers to 'ma fille', my daughter.

But doesn't one of her first two daughters refer to 'my brother' at some point? Is that a translation error too? I was also wondering why the missing baby changed gender!

I expected Atticus , when we met him, to be some charismatic cult leader type not the batty old fellow that we did meet. Wouldn't he have had to have some power of personality over the children in the orphanage, not to mention the adults he needed to have power over to carry out his crazed activities? Or have I misinterpreted the plot (very easy to do with this series!)?

While I agree that the plot became increasingly absurd from episode 4 onwards, I do not begrudge a single minute of the time I spent watching Witnesses. The acting by Marie Dompnier and Audrey Fleurot was wonderful, and all the more impressive given the craziness of the script. I would cheerfully watch either of them play any role; to see them play against each other for several episodes was positively mesmerising. The cinematography from start to finish was a further bonus. But a new scriptwriter for series 3, please.

Despite all the plot holes, it worked. Why wouldn't Sandra want to go her own way, unencumbered by procedure? There was something elemental about the two women being driven to save the children and their families, without anyone having to point that out. Worth watching in every respect.

I agree with you all, but highly recommend Spiral which has the same actress (the one who played Catherine). Spiral is superb.

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters