Season 1 of Babylon Berlin reportedly cost €38 million – a record spend on a German TV series – and we think it’s more than justified on this foreign language thriller.
This series is set during the 15-year period of the Weimar Republic that preceded the Third Reich, an era where extremes flourished, with both the right and left sides of the political spectrum gathering strength whilst a centrist government tries and fails to maintain moderation. Luckily there’s a fair amount of dancing, boozing and shagging going on, to offset all the heavy, political stuff. After all, this is 1929 – the jazz age is still in full swing (pun intended) and there’s still plenty of time for some debauchery.
Maybe not for our protagonist, Geroen Rath (Volker Bruch), though. He’s still traumatised from the First World War, and is trying to cover up his PTSD symptoms by swigging from morphine bottles and carrying on in his day job as a police inspector. He’s been sent to Berlin on a mission to crack a pornography ring that is being ran by the city’s mafia, but it soon seems like even darker forces are at play. Luckily he’s got a helping hand in Charlotte Ritter (Liv Lisa Fries), a glamorous and ambitious young woman with aspirations to become the departments first female inspector, whilst moonlighting as a flapper in an attempt to outgrow her abusive and impoverished background.
This is a seriously immersive bit of telly – we hop from club to city street, the producers exploiting every bit of raucousness the Weimar Republic was known for and soaking it all in gorgeous lighting and filling every room with good looking people. And the show stays fairly neutral in terms of the obvious political implications of the time period – the Nazis that appear are shown to be brutes, but then so are the communists. Plus, the drama is as extreme as the politics, full of twists, turns and gob-smacking moments.
Yet the series keeps its head above water in terms sinking into ‘all style no substance’ territory, by writing brilliantly complex and compelling characters, who cut through the noise of a rowdy Republic.
Sam Wollaston in The Guardian says it’s all “fabulous debauchery and naughtiness, a political maelstrom and a ticking timebomb.” Reviewing the third season Max McGuinness in the Financial Times gave it full marks, calling it “a Jekyll-and-Hyde-like hybrid.” For whilst it “meticulously recreates the murky glamour and ambivalent mood of late Weimar Berlin” it is “also stuffed full of delightfully extravagant hokum.”
The Spectator’s James Delingpole is also in no doubt that this is essential viewing. “The characters are so real and exquisitely played, and because its recreation of the period is so lovingly, nay obsessively, realised… Set aside 16 hours of your life now, and binge-watch this masterpiece.”
First shown January 2017. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.