DVD Review: Maigret – Season 1


For French viewers, Bruno Cremer’s performance of Paris-based detective Maigret is the interpretation against which all others are judged. Owning the role in the way that Jeremy Brett and Joan Hickson did respectively with Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple, Cremer’s realisation of the pipe-smoking detective is the most authentic screen embodiment of Simenon’s fictitious sleuth.

Premiering a year before ITV’s Michael Gambon starring adaptation, the Cremer series remains a regular fixture on French TV thanks to constant repeats. Running for fourteen years, the producers originally intended to adapt the entirety of the Maigret canon (75 Maigret novels and 29 short stories). 54 feature-length episodes were filmed before plans were abandoned due to Cremer’s ill health.

Best known to English-speaking audiences for his appearance in William Friedkin’s 1977 remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear, Cremer appeared in more than fifty films. He worked with many of Europe’s most prominent directors, including Costa Gavras and Luchiano Visconti.

Already in his early 60s at the time of casting, Cremer had the unenviable task of following Jean Richard who had played the role on French television since 1965 and for an entire nation was Maigret despite being publicly derided by Georges Simenon.
Cremer’s core appeal was that he perfectly conveyed Maigret’s world-weariness, compassion, and humour.

Restoring credibility to a character that over the course of numerous adaptations been reduced to a hat wearing sleuth, Cremer’s fondness for the novels and determination to be true to the source material resulted in the most complex portrayal to date.

Comprising the first six feature films, this DVD boxset is more faithful to Simenon’s material than ITV’s recent Rowan Atkinson starring version. Despite its age, the series remains a satisfyingly atmospheric recreation of Simenon’s world thankfully devoid of the ersatz Frenchness which has plagued other adaptations.

If you’ve discovered Maigret via Penguin’s issuing of newly translated editions this should be your next DVD boxset purchase.

Maigret – Season 1 is available to order from Amazon.


DVD Review – The Bureau – Complete Season Two


Addictive spy thriller should be your next binge-watch.

The Bureau‘s first season offered a realistic portrayal of modern day espionage far removed from the stylised version offered up by the James Bond films. Ten thrilling episodes kept viewers on the edge of their seats as French intelligence officer Malotru (Mathieu Kassovitz) tore up the rule book and endangered France’s national security. In the closing moments of the series newly promoted to deputy director of the Directorate General of External Security (DGSE) he agreed to become a double-agent for the CIA.

The Bureau S2_9

More intense than the first season, The Bureau‘s return is wider in scope. At its heart, the series is a powerful study of treachery, torment, and the shifting tectonic plates of geopolitics. Already in production when the Charlie Hebdo attacks occurred, showrunner Éric Rochant’s screenplays address concerns about the rise of homegrown extremism and the state’s ineffectiveness in combating Isis and Al-Qaeda.

Contrasting the spectacle of fieldwork in Damascus, Istanbul, and Tehran with a complex web of paranoia in the DGSE’s headquarters, it’s an unremittingly intense drama. Immersive and utterly convincing, The Bureau occasionally plays like an anti-Homeland. Perhaps the closest television will ever get to presenting a glimpse into the fight against terror without artifice or flag waving.

The Bureau – Complete Season Two is available to order from Amazon

The Bureau – Complete Season One


Tinker Tailor Gallic Spy: Masterly stylish slow burning espionage series is a gripping drama.

As the spy who came in from warmer climes, French intelligence operative Malotru is recalled to Paris after spending six years in Damascus. Leaving behind a life recruiting new agents in the field he struggles to cope with the prospect of a desk-bound job at the Directorate General of External Security (DGSE).

Mathieu Kassovitz (Malotru)

A world away from Ian Fleming’s view of spycraft, at times The Bureau plays out like an anti-Bond. Cynical, complex, and realistic, the series channels John Le Carre’s pessimistic view of the intelligence community. Expertly sketched atmosphere pours through every frame in this portrait of tradecraft and it’s consequences.

Based on accounts by former agents, The Bureau also draws from contemporary geopolitical events. Though France’s operations in Syria serves as the story’s backdrop, the narrative’s main focus is an agent’s behaviour threatening to bring down the entire department and put France’s security at risk.

Film actor Mathieu Kassovitz plays Malotru, an operative suffering from an acute case of Post-Mission Syndrome. After a six-year absence from his homeland, he is reunited with a daughter who barely remembers him and knows nothing about his work.  During his time in Damascus he fell in love and is now forced to relinquish all ties with his undercover identity. Convinced he is one step ahead of his enemies and allies, Malotru breaches security protocol and reaches out to his former girlfriend unaware that she is already in Paris on the false pretence of attending a UNESCO sponsored course.

Mathieu Kassovitz (Malotru)

In a world of secrets and lies knowing when to ditch a false identity will save countless lives. Nadia (Zineb Triki) only knows Malotru’s undercover alias. She believes he is a teacher taking a sabbatical to write a novel. His superiors are unaware that he has reactivated “Paul Lefebvre” and begun living a double life. As their relationship blossoms the lovers will be forced to choose sides in a war against terror.

Less stylised than Homeland and more authentic than Spooks, The Bureau has a strong claim to being the most realistic depiction of twenty-first-century espionage on TV. Series creator Eric Rochant’s 1994 thriller The Patriots is used as a training film by the French intelligence community which led to the showrunner and his team being given special permission to visit the DGSC and speak with former agents.

Expertly building tension throughout the season, it’s a perfectly paced excursion into a world of subterfuge and betrayal. Distinctively directed, this understated show is filled with enough edge of the seat moments to make you devour it in a single sitting. Undeniably the best French show to reach these shores since Spiral‘s first season, The Bureau is an exceptional series.

The Bureau is available to order from Amazon.

Totally Serialized – Interview with Caroline Proust


Caroline Proust, star of Spiral, visited Institut Francais and revealed behind-the-scenes secrets of France’s most successful police series to more than 200 fans.

Frequently compared to The Wire, Spiral’s hard-edged view of French policing introduced British audiences to Gallic Noir. Now in its fifth season, a sixth will be produced later this year, this gritty drama tackles issues facing contemporary France through the eyes of its justice system.

The latest series has been the most successful to date in the UK. Critics have responded with levels of fervour not seen since The Bridge and ratings have topped the million mark.


Making her début at a British event, a visibly delighted Proust admitted to being surprised at Spiral’s popularity in Britain.

‘We just knew that there’s been a million viewers for this season,’ she says. ‘Gregory (Fitoussi – Pierre Clément) told me. He worked here on Mr Selfridge and he told me that it was a big success here.’

Fresh from delivering a masterclass on how the show is made and her approach to playing Laure. Proust posed for photographs and signed autographs for over 200 fans.

She recently joined Facebook and has connected with over 3,000 enthusiasts.

‘I opened a Facebook account because I wanted to know what was happening in other countries,’ she explains. ‘This is very interesting for me to hear from Italian, Greek, American, and English fans. There are many English fans.’


A classically trained actor, Proust was primarily known for her work on the stage when she joined the series. In between seasons, she returns to the theatre. Would she be interested in appearing in the West End?

‘I would really like to do that. Maybe I can come with a French play. I came years ago with the play Game of Love and Chance.’

Spiral’s popularity is on the rise. Might now be the time to capitalise on its success and make a feature film?

‘We were wondering. The producer asked us if we want to do a cinema movie. First time we said yes, yes we want to do that and we said I don’t know if it’s a good idea,’ she says. ‘The thing which is very interesting is that you can show how complex human beings are. In the movie you only have one and a half hours.’


Institut Francais have posted a podcast containing extracts from Caroline Proust and Anne Landois’ panels

For information about future events please contact:

Institut Français, 17 Queensberry Place, London SW7 2DT

Info & booking: 020 7871 3515


Spiral – Series 5 is available to order from Amazon

DVD Review: JO – Season One

Starring Jean Reno (Leon, Mission Impossible) in the lead role JO is a series quite unlike anything else to have been released since the recent explosion of interest in European TV drama began. After more than thirty years working exclusively in feature films Reno has been tempted back to television with the promise of playing the lead in what is reported to be one of the most expensive shows to have ever been shot in France.

Devised by René Balcer (Law & Order) the series combines American approaches to storytelling with European production values. Charlotte Siegling (The Killing and The Bridge) is amongst the roster of directors.  Made specifically for export with an eye on the all important North American market, JO‘s cast of regulars and guest artistes is filled with British, Canadian, Irish, and American actors all speaking with American accents whilst pretending to be French. The version made available in each non-English language territory, including France, is dubbed with a fresh dialogue track so the presence of incongruous accents and required suspension of disbelief is not an issue For those who enjoy the experience of reading subtitles their absence presents something of a problem but the audience willing to spend several hours or weeks watching European drama is comparatively small. With a budget rumoured to be in the region of $2.5 million USD per episode, JO has been constructed to go beyond the existing cult fanbase and is aimed squarely at a mainstream audience.


Against a backdrop of Paris’ most famous tourist friendly monuments JO applies tried and tested tropes, familiar to those who have seen Law & Order or N.C.I.S, and incorporates a European sensibility that may seem exotic to a mainstream audience viewing a French based drama for the first time. A Trojan horse, JO  utilizes the traditional American police procedural generic template and blends in a layered and morally ambiguous cast of characters. Elements which may seem commonplace to long term fans of European TV drama are new and obscure for the wider gallery so a reliance upon recognizable components is necessary in order to persuade cautious viewers to join this series’ detective on his professional and personal emotional journeys.

Jean Reno plays Jo Saint-Clair, a complex character, full of contradictions. A detective assigned to the homicide division who has danced with the criminal underworld for so long he’s now tainted by a permanent stench of filth. This modern day Icarus has sailed close to the sun far too many times with disastrous consequences. Physically weakened by a heart attack brought upon by years of hard living he’s trapped within a personal hell from which escape seems impossible.

Standing on the edge of the abyss Jo is hell bent on throwing himself head first into a pit of eternal spiritual torment. No longer believing in the power of redemption Jo relies upon an unhealthy mix of heavy alcohol consumption and pill popping to silence the screams in his head. Nights are spent playing cards with low rent thugs and as each fresh day breaks, bringing with it painful moments of lucidity, he has even less reason to trust his faltering moral compass. Feared and respected by criminals and colleagues, Jo is a loner who knows when to bend and break the rules. At times deceptively laconic, this façade conceals a primal rage. Those who have witnessed Jo’s volcanic eruptions live with an ever-present fear that one day he may explode and cross the line.


Years spent fraternizing with the more dangerous elements of Parisienne society have attuned Jo’s understanding of lawlessness to the point where he can see patterns in things that other, less worldly-wise, officers would have dismissed without thought. . The darker aspects of his personality are tempered by his channelling a lifetime of personal tragedies and failings into overt demonstrations of empathy towards victims of crime.

A lost soul, the son of a sex worker he has no knowledge of his father’s identity. With a surname taken from the street in which he was born, Jo is suffering from a perpetual sense of self-loathing compounded by a long-standing existential crisis. The absence of a stable father figure has left him emotionally bereft and he’s spent his life filling the void with a succession of destructive surrogate replacements. Jo’s relationship with card shark and notorious gangster Charlie (Sean Pertwee) has lasted longer than his marriage and yet it is this long-standing friendship which has the potential to destroy everything which Jo cherishes.


Jo Saint-Clair’s emotional odyssey and his potential for growth coupled with an inherent destructive instinct distinguishes this series from the American shows it’s trying to emulate. The death of his wife compounds his isolation and self hatred but also presents an opportunity for redemption. Attempting to reconcile with his daughter, Adèle (Heida Reed), after years of absence Jo decides to walk a new path in the hope he will become the father he should have been all along. Aided by a nun (Jill Hennessy), Jo fights a tortuous battle with demons he has harboured throughout his life and faces an imminent war with the forces of darkness who are terrified at the prospect of his being cleansed of their influence.

The crimes featured in JO are motivated by issues central to the contemporary French experience. Peeling back the city’s glamorous veneer JO places the less savoury aspects on show for the whole world to see. Glittering catwalks, governmental palaces, and refugee camps conceal a Paris which does not appear on any tourist destination map. Murders may be motivated by greed, lust, or a desire for revenge but in JO each case has a distinctly Gallic tinge. Amongst the killings investigated in the course of this series’ run are the death of a researcher into French women deported to Auschwitz and the murder of a supermodel on the Eiffel Tower.


A glossy visually arresting series, JO has an number of familiar faces in its cast, including; Tom Austen (The Borgias), Geraldine Chaplin (Doctor Zhivago, Nashville) Adrian Dunbar (Hear My Song, Cracker), Orla Brady (Poirot), Sean Pertwee (Event Horizon) and Jill Hennessy (Crossing Jordan).

With a tightly controlled central performance from Jean Reno, JO is a series that takes us on a whistle-stop tour of Paris’ most sensational locations, and its most depraved, but never shifts focus from the story of a man who will always be enslaved by anguish.

JO is available to order from Amazon. 

Les Revenants (The Returned)


‘We zombies should help each other.’

In the years following the theatrical release of 28 Days Later the zombie sub-genre has undergone something of a commercial resurgence. In addition to several highly successful gaming franchises, multiple graphic novels, and a thriving literary scene, the number of films and television series competing for marketplace supremacy and viewer loyalty has increased substantially and at present the dominant televisual brand is the HBO produced series The Walking Dead. Into this very crowded and ever more inventive movement French pay-to-view broadcaster Canal+ has launched a new series based on a 2004 film that was released internationally as They Came Back.

Adaptations of films can be a tricky business. For every Buffy the Vampire Slayer or M*A*S*H viewers are hit with several shows that lack the very ingredients which made the original film so enjoyable. Although promoted as a remake Les Revenants is a re-imagining of the 2004 film. In the original version a global phenomena occurred one morning as every single person who had died over the previous ten years was suddenly resurrected. The opening sequences saw hoards of stiff moving zombies march out of the graveyards which had a few moments earlier been home to their corpses. With a massive influx of reanimated corpses needing housing, and employment, the government establishes temporary refuge centres whilst it tries to reach a consensus on the socio-cultural implications posed by having to provide resources for seventy million people. At various points in the film we are presented with information that informs us of ways the zombies differ from humans; they exhibit symptoms similar to acute aphasia, have a lower body temperature, do not require sleep and need minimal amounts of food . The debate on if it is possible to integrate what is effectively a large migrant community is a central theme to the film but one that becomes somewhat muddied by the need to resolve the plot in under two hours and by localising the action; despite being a global event we only experience it from a French perspective.

The 2012 eight part series, scripted by Fabrice Gobert, relocates the action to a small French Alpine town. In this version a very small number of deceased individuals have returned, none of whom are, at first, aware that they are dead. With the exception of an inability to sleep not one of the returnees initially displays any obvious physiological and psychological abnormalities but in later episodes they experience enlarged appetites, a resistance to alcohol’s intoxicating effects and a very high sex drive. The cause of death is the only information missing from the returnees memories and in the introductory moments  returning to a community many years after being buried in the grounds of the local cemetery causes no disorientation or depression.  In the film version it was only those who had died within the previous ten years that returned to walk once again amongst the living whilst in the series returnees are indiscriminately plucked from a thirty five year time frame. The resurrected have no direct connection and what links them is a mystery. Amongst the re-animated corpses are the wife of a school teacher, a child who was murdered by a pair of house burglars, a cannibalistic serial killer, a girl who was killed in a coach accident, and a young man who died on the morning of what should have been his wedding day. Each wants nothing more than to return to their loved ones and resume the life they once lived but encountering family members who have already undergone the grieving process opens emotional scars strong enough to drive one person to murder and suicide.

Once the wider community becomes aware that those to whom they had bid farewell many years ago are now living again in the town the sense of disbelief is rapidly replaced by anger at person X being revived but not person Y. Competing theological perspectives of the phenomena are presented by the local Catholic parish priest and a worker at a local community organization, both individuals are fighting to maintain their ideological supremacy and justify the belief system to which they subscribe. As the town becomes embroiled in psychological and spiritual mutilation the local police force has a wave of procedural problems for which there is no precedent such as how to go about booking a suspect that has been officially recorded as dead for the last decade.

A visual motif of water as a source of life and death plays in the title sequence and the main body of each episode. The town is situated near to a vast dam and at one point in the last forty years its banks have burst, killing many of the local inhabitants. That the local abundant water supply may somehow factor into whatever has caused the spate of resurrections is thankfully not resolved for the series ends with a visually stunning and emotionally engaging cliffhanger.

Les Revenants is a series you will watch again and again in order to pick up any clues about what or who has the power to revive the dead, why have they chosen to only revive these specific individuals, do the dead have a part to play of which they are, as yet unaware? It’s a very confident and consistent series that doesn’t fall into the obvious trap of filling screen time with mass hysteria each time a character meets someone who is supposed to be dead. The direction is reminiscent of David Lynch’s work on Twin Peaks and if that wasn’t enough of a reason to lobby for a UK release it also has a soundtrack from Scottish band Mogwai that is, at differing moments, elegiac, restrained, and reassuring.

A second season will air in 2014.

A trailer can be viewed here:

The  Returned can be pre-ordered from Amazon;


Mogwai’s soundtrack is available to buy from iTunes and all other online music retailers;


Arrow Films will be releasing the 2004 film Les Revenants (They Came Back) on DVD in July:



Channel 4 will be screening this series throughout the summer months.