26 May 2017 | robert-temple-1
Fantastic French political thriller series, breath-taking
This is a review of Seasons 1, 2, and 3. (No further season seems to be planned.) This series is France's answer to America's HOUSE OF CARDS (2013, still ongoing) and Denmark's BORGEN (2010-2013, see my review). Three countries now have produced magnificent series set in their nations' main political residences or parliaments showing the vicious back-stabbing and intrigues of leading politicians scheming for power, which confirms all that we ever feared about such people. (It is not impossible that HOUSE OF CARDS boosted the Trump vote, due to Robin Wright's icy and terrifying portrayal of a First Lady thought by some to resemble very closely a certain someone.) In this wonderful series, every moment of which is gripping, the main character is a spin doctor named Simon Kapita, played by the mesmerising Bruno Wolkowitch. He conveys a wide range of every kind of emotion and is a solid lead for the series. Season One is devoted to the presidential campaign of Anne Visage, played by Nathalie Baye. She disappears after Season One and from then on the series is dominated an overwhelmingly brilliant performance, perhaps the best of her career, by Carole Bouquet, as First Lady Elizabeth Marjorie. She plays a wild, unstable bipolar personality, and Bouquet therefore has great fun playing twelve personalities at once, all of them dangerous and unpredictable. It is a tour de force. When she was younger, she longed to play the wicked Countess Tarnowska, and here she got to go one better, and play a human kaleidoscope who could be a shrieking nightmare one moment and be 'sugar and spice and everything nice' the next moment. One never knows in the series whether she is going to smile enchantingly and make cooing noises or scowl, frown, and scream, and start throwing things. No expense seems to have been spared for this spectacular series, and access seems to have been granted at the Elysée and the Matignon, as well as other key political buildings. Certainly the exteriors are real, and the interiors are so convincing that it is difficult to believe that they are sets. There are some discontinuities in the series, in that one key character disappears after Season Two without trace, never to reappear, while there are a few cast changes between seasons of other key characters. Everyone is superb, and the direction is inspired. There is not a dull moment in the entire 18 episodes of this sensational political drama. The most wicked character in the series, worse even than the politicians, is the rival spin doctor to Kapita, Ludovic Desmeuze, played with intense cunning and malice by Grégory Fitoussi, which is the precise opposite of the 'nice guy' character whom he played I the series SPIRAL (ENGRENAGES, 2005-2014, see my review). It is a shock to see Fitoussi scheming and being evil, but then that is acting for you. One of the finest performances in the series is by the dour and proper Philippe Magnan as Philippe Deleuvre, a man capable of the cleverest and most devious plots, but always true to a strange inner morality. He adds a needed bass note to the series, like adding a row of bass fiddles exuding a prolonged doleful hum. (He played Mitterand in FAREWELL, 2009.) President Marjorie is magnificently played by Nicolas Marié, whose range of emotions is also very broad, and who carries a lead role with the ease of a true pro. Sophie-Charlotte Husson plays the most viciously scheming and ruthless politician of them all, and she is really scary. In the middle of having sex with Fitoussi she gasps not with ecstasy but with the question of does he sees her as President. That scene is a marvellous dark and wicked satire. Rachida Brakni is dutifully scheming while appearing to be loving, and she is capable of anything. In fact, most of the characters are capable of anything except for Kapita, who is a good guy surrounded by monsters. There is a huge amount of human tragedy and desperation in this series, and even though those who get crushed deserved their fate, the spectacle of their destruction is terrible. There were three directors for this series, one for each season. All were excellent. There were no less than ten writers, one of whom, Charlene de LépIne, was an executive producer of SPIRAL (ENGRENAGES). This series gathered together much of the best talent in France to produce a major series of relentless intensity and fascination, and certain to be of widespread international interest.