She’s running through the woods. She’s been caught, and falls to the forest floor. Now he’s dragging her through the undergrowth… And now her clothes are being neatly folded by a pair of sickly white hands, and a statuette of Christ is laid upon her top.
The frantic and unnerving opening of the six-part crime drama The Forgotten Girls lands us in a big seaside town in Northern France – a town in the grip of fear. An 18-year-old blonde girl called Sylvie has gone missing and her parents are extra worried. Why? Because over the last 15 years, six other teenage girls have also disappeared. Their clothes were found ironed, neatly folded, wrapped and sealed in plastic with a small figurine of the Blessed Virgin. No other clues whatsoever, and police investigator Christian Janvier has been working the case all these years.
The programme originally aired in France in 2008 under the title Les Oubliées (The Forgotten) will be available to stream with subtitles via Channel 4’s Walter Presents service from Friday 7 July 2017. It might be nine years old, but it’s well worth watching, particularly if you enjoyed the French programme Witnesses two years ago on BBCFour, or if you liked Cardinal or Hinterland. Here’s the trailer:
Up close and personal
It’s very well acted, with Janvier played by Jacques Gamblin. A great deal of the camerawork is handheld and up close, giving you a sense of how personal the case is to him. The conflict isn’t just between him and the killer, who is taunting the police. It’s also an inner one for Janvier. He doesn’t want to let the parents of the missing teenagers down, and is finding it impossible to move on with his own life while the case is unsolved. Janvier is even having visions of the missing young women, suggesting that they’re waiting for him to find them.
But now there is hope. It looks like the killer has slipped up. This time, he has left a couple of clues. Janvier and his new assistant Olivier Ducourt (Fabien Aïssa Busetta) might be able to track him down and bring closure to seven sets of grieving parents. Maybe Janvier and his family will be able to move to Marseilles after all, where his wife has been offered a job doubling her salary. Or… perhaps the killer will evade him once again and he’ll remain in there in limbo.
The setting is grey and bleak, the atmosphere claustrophobic, perhaps to reflect Janvier’s state of mind. But there are strong characters here, closely observed. Little things show through, like the fact that his daughter plays piano and does judo, and that he picks her up from lessons in the middle of his police work. Director Hervé Hadmar, also responsible for Witnesses, knows how to quietly simmer up the tension and suspense. The fact that the detective’s daughter is in her late teens and blonde like the other victims will likely present worries in later episodes.