You get a good idea of what’s in store with ‘Dark Woods’, a new Walter Presents show, from the moment we see a woman dressed in white running through the forest. She’s being chased by an unknown pursuer, and she’s terrified. Her hairstyle and make-up are a give-away to the fact that this occurred in the late 80s.
If you want to avoid spoilers, please stop reading this article now.
We’re in Germany – West Germany, as it was – and Barbara Neder, the woman in white, played by the wonderfully named Silke Bodenbender, is going through a painful divorce from her husband, Robert. She’s drinking and smoking too much and her family – including her husband – are worried about her welfare. In an attempt to raise her spirits, she’s invited to a party by a neighbour. She tries to behave herself, but before long she’s flirting with a married man – a local gardener. At the party, she gets so drunk that he has to help her home. The following day, she disappears.
Barbara happens to be the brother of the Hamburg police chief, Thomas Bethge. He’s desperate to use his influence to get the search for his sister to be made a priority, but Thomas plays by the rules. Even when a criminal hints that he knows what happened to Barbara, Thomas refuses to bite – a decision he lives to regret.
The local police are over-whelmed as it is; they’re investigating two double-murders in nearby woods and are getting nowhere fast. They focus their attentions on a local woodsman who has been acting strangely and aggressively towards visitors to the forest; but that doesn’t end well. One of the investigators is Anne Bach – a newly promoted policewoman who is subjected to the usual sexism and prejudice by her male colleagues. But Anne – played by Karoline Schuch (who has won awards for the role) – is the only one who realises that there is a connection between the murders and Barbara’s disappearance. If TV shows are to be believed, all male coppers in the 80s were a bunch of sexist, incompetent halfwits!
Shown in three 90-minute episodes, this is a bit of a slow burner, but very worthy of your attention. Based on the true story of the Göhrde murders in Lower Saxony in the summer of 1989, it’s like so many things based on real-life where truth is often weirder than fiction. For example, whilst the police are collecting forensic evidence after the first double-murder, they hear nearby gunshots. But because they’re in a forest, they think nothing about it – not realising that they’re hearing the second set of murders happening literally just metres from where they’re searching. Seriously, you couldn’t make it up – but it actually happened.
The fact that this is based on a true-crime story makes it all the more enthralling. It’s well acted, nicely written and the 80s references are well researched. The story is hugely engaging, and all the leading players are believable and watchable.
A very worthy addition to the Walter Presents stable.
Walter Presents: ‘Dark Woods’ will launch at 9pm Friday 14th January with new episodes following on Fridays. Episodes will also be available each week on Walter Presents via All 4.