sun 26/05/2024

Babylon Berlin, Sky Atlantic review – brilliantly promising Euro-noir | reviews, news & interviews

Babylon Berlin, Sky Atlantic review – brilliantly promising Euro-noir

Babylon Berlin, Sky Atlantic review – brilliantly promising Euro-noir

Pre-Nazi Berlin comes alive in this big-budget tale of scheming, sex and violence

Volker Bruch stars as the troubled inspector Gereon Rath© Frédéric Batier

Sky Atlantic’s German import is an intoxicating mix of intrigue and betrayal, set in the excessive days of the Weimar Republic. Gripping stories and extravagant production meet in the opening two episodes of this brilliantly promising Euro-noir.

Babylon Berlin lays its cards on the table from the opening moments – a montage in reverse of gun fights, riots and war, no doubt all to come in the show’s upcoming eight episodes. It’s tense, engaging, and a serious marker that Germany is ready to carve its place in the television landscape.

Inspector Gereon Rath is a recent transfer from Cologne, working in Vice and on the hunt for a mysterious film. Like many in the city, he still carries the scars of war – all-consuming tremors brought on by PTSD and only suppressed with morphine. After busting an illegal adult film set, he seems to have found his target in director König, but soon learns there are more insidious forces at play.

As Rath slowly makes his way through Berlin’s underbelly, we too come to understand the players and their roles: Charlotte Ritter (Liv Lisa Fries, pictured right), who spends her days sorting crime scene photographs for the police, and her nights partying at the decadent Moka Efti club; Greta and Kardkov, a pair of Russian Trotskyist musicians with revolutionary plans; and the sinister Dr Schmidt, with facial scarring that wouldn’t look out of place on a Bond villain.

Together, these characters, along with a large side cast, build a web of intrigue and deception that spans the city and beyond. Two episodes in and we have a mystery cargo, a betrayal, a blackmailed mayor, and a wonderfully tense scene involving the delicacy of tongues, which wouldn’t seem out of place in Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal. We can’t see the wider scheme yet, but all these plot points are surely heading to the same crossroads.

Where Babylon Berlin stands apart from competitors is its setting. Art-deco buildings and sprawling platzes bring 1920s Berlin alive. The series is the most expensive non-English-language drama ever produced, and it shows. Too often period shows are let down by computer-generated exteriors, but here the city is its strongest asset.

The set-pieces also shine. In the show’s second episode, there’s a spectacular extended performance at the Moka Efti cabaret club, with hundreds of extras all dancing in unison (pictured below). It’s Luhrmann-esque in scale and leaves you longing to join those heady days of swing. A special mention must go to Babylon Berlin’s lavish score, provided by Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer, longtime collaborators who previously worked on Cloud Atlas and Sense8. The music reflects the mood of the city: moments of angst-ridden orchestral swells hide behind a joyous front of jazz and excess.

Tom Tykwer is also the series’ co-writer and co-director, alongside Achim von Borries (Alone in Berlin) and Hendrik Handloegten. All three had their own unit and held parallel shoots during production. Incredibly, this does not show in the finished product; the vision of the show appears singular. Stories are given time to develop individually while all adding to the show’s wider tapestry.Moka Efti cabaret club from Babylon BerlinThere are definite parallels between Babylon Berlin and the BBC’s Peaky Blinders. They share a time period, and follow a PTSD-sufferer rising through the criminal underworld. But whereas Peaky Blinders takes its cues from gangster film clichés, all family relationships and personal greed, Babylon Berlin leans much more toward film noir. Every character navigates the hedonistic Berlin alone; we rarely see anyone in the company of friends, and those who offer their trust are made to suffer the consequences.

Of course, this approach means after an hour and thirty minutes, we still don’t feel like we truly know anyone. The characters are complex, but not yet wholly relatable. There’s plenty of time for this though, with six more episodes to come and series two already in production. For now, we’re hooked.


It’s Luhrmann-esque in scale and leaves you longing to join those heady days of swing


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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At the end of episode 1, the Russians in Berlin chant together: "Long live the fourth international!" But the scene is set in 1929 and in that year there was no 4th international. It was established by Leon Trotsky in 1938, almost ten years later. This series is supposed to be strong on historical accuracy. But this remark about the 4th international is a clear violation of historical truth.

"Germany is ready to carve its place in the television landscape" - yes, they just got TV stations yesterday. The US has been looking at itself for too long. I have taken every opportunity to watch German, and generally European, movies and TV - for decades. Great stuff, and mostly free of the usual commercial garbage we are served with here in the US.

'Heimat'? Fassbinder's 'Berlin Alexanderplatz'? Germany carved its place decades ago.

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