Marina Masson is a happy nine-year-old girl living with her parents in Dunkirk in France. Then one day, she goes missing. A manhunt fails to find her, and for more than a decade, everyone assumes she’s dead.
If you want to avoid spoilers, stop reading this article now.
But then a young woman is struck by a car. She survives the accident but is knocked unconscious. When she wakes up in a hospital bed, she claims to have no recollection of her name. But a police detective brought in to investigate notices a striking similarity between this young woman and Marina.
Marina’s parents – now separated – are notified and come to the hospital to see if she really could be their missing daughter. The mum, Hélène, is convinced that it is her, but other members of the family are less certain. Once she’s suitably recovered, they take her home to the house where she grew up and where Hélène still lives. Considering that at that stage the authorities don’t actually know if she is the missing girl, this seems more than a little odd – just one of a handful of things that don’t quite sit right.
The French authorities bring in a police detective – known as The Shark – to lead the investigation into the case. The Shark – or to give her her proper name, Victoire Eberhart – is a heavily pregnant Superintendent who specialises in cases like these. She is an interesting character – not your normal grizzled copper – and the high point in terms of characters.
Working alongside Eberhart is the original police officer, Paul, assigned to the case 11 years ago, who happens to be a close friend of the family. Given her reaction towards him at the hospital, Hélène blames him for failing to find her daughter years previously.
The woman believed to be Marina is clearly hiding something, memory-loss or not. And when a man comes to her room late one night, she fails to reveal all the facts to the authorities.
This is quite a gloomy show (known as ‘L’absente in France’) – much of the action takes place at night and it’s hard to know what’s going on a lot of the time. Add to that the permanent state of melancholy that engulfs most of the cast, and you realise that this show isn’t one to raise the spirits. Thank goodness for Eberhart, who lifts the mood from time to time.
But the mystery itself – is this young woman actually the missing Marina or a strange imposter (and if so, why?) – is an engrossing one. There’s a revelation towards the end of the first episode that seems to put pay to any mystery about her identity, but I’m sure there will be further twists and turns over the eight episodes.
There are a few holes and head-scratching moments in the plot, but overall it’s an intriguing show with a strong cast (Thibault de Montalembert, who plays the husband, Laurent, was in ‘The Tunnel’; and Laurent’s new partner, Selma, is played by Laëtitia Eïdo who was in the Netflix series ‘Fauda’). Worth watching, definitely.
Walter Presents: ‘A Familiar Stranger’ will be available as a full boxset on C4 Streaming from Friday 9th June 2023.