Friday, 23 January 2015


1529 in the Tudor Court of Henry VIII. Cardinal Wolsey couldn't get the annulment of the King's marriage from the Pope. Thomas Cromwell, his lawyer, assists the cardinal as his master's fall from grace begins.

Wolf Hall, the highly anticipated six-part adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s award-winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, started this week on BBC Two.

« Well, these days 24 hours feels like a victory. »

Adapted by playwright and scriptwriter Peter Straughan (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) and directed by Peter Kosminsky (The Promise), Wolf Hall is one of these dramas for which you can only expect the BBC to deliver the goods. The source material of this £7m production is a best-selling historical novel and its sequel. It was filmed in England with a top-notch cast (over 100 characters) headed by Mark Rylance (The Other Boleyn Girl) and Damian Lewis (Homeland).

Some of the key roles are played by Bernard Hill, Claire Foy (Going Postal, Little Dorrit), Anton Lesser (Game of Thrones, Endeavour), Mark Gatiss (Sherlock), French actor/director Mathieu Amalric (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Joanne Whalley, Jonathan Pryce, Jessica Raine (Call the Midwife), etc...

« At last, a man born in a more lowly state than myself. »

The premiere episode is perfect beyond expectations. It starts in October 1529 when the thuggish Dukes of Norfolk (Hill) and Suffolk (Richard Dillane) arrive to tell Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (Pryce), one of the most powerful men in England, that he has been dismissed as Lord Chancellor. Thomas Cromwell (Rylance), the cardinal's discrete right-hand man, enters to buy his fatalistic master some time. Later, he remembers when Wolsey appointed him eight years earlier.

« Master Cromwell, your reputation is bad. You don't defend yourself?
- Your Majesty can form your own opinion. »

Mark Rylance is formidable in the role of Thomas Cromwell, a man of humble origins, son of an abusive blacksmith, who spent 12 years abroad before returning to England. Fluent in French, Latin and Italian, Cromwell is intelligent and he remains loyal to the cardinal at the time of his downfall. He's also a devoted husband and father. While he pleads the cause of Wolsey, he ends up being noticed by Henry VIII.

« She lets him pull down her shift and kiss her breasts.
- Good man if he can find them. »

The narrative patiently unfolds around Cromwell back and forth from 1529 to 1521. He carries his sadness through the corridors of power, where he uses his sharp mind and his wit to deal with political, religious and intimate royal matters. We meet his antagonists: the sinister Stephen Gardiner (Mark Gatiss), Thomas More (Anton Lesser) and the dangerous Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy). Damian Lewis's Henry VIII appears only towards the end of the 60 minutes.

« God damn it,  Cromwell. Why are you such a... person? »

Wolf Hall brings a fresh perspective and a modern appeal to the well-known Tudor saga. This first hour has some great scenes: the card trick, the death of Cromwell's wife and daughters and the hammer. The locations are classy and the much talked-about use of candlelight makes the cinematography of Gavin Finney (The Fear) superbly atmospheric. The music of Debbie Wiseman (Father Brown, Jekyll) is both magnificent and poignant.

«  You look like a foreigner.
- I am a foreigner. »

Wolf Hall will debut on PBS in April. It is a co-production of Company Pictures and the US company Playground Entertainment (The White Queen, Dancing On The Edge) for BBC Two and Masterpiece, in association with BBC Worldwide, Altus Media and Prescience. The executive producers are John Yorke (Company Pictures), Colin Callender (Playground), Polly Hill (BBC), Rebecca Eaton (Masterpiece), Martin Rakusen and Ben Donald (BBC Worldwide), and Tim Smith (Prescience). Mark Pybus is the producer.

Arte will air Wolf Hall in France and Germany.

See also:

Tuesday, 20 January 2015


To François JAUBERT

Europe at the end of the 1920s. Charming and elegant, Arsène Lupin is a gentleman thief who steals without violence. He's a master of disguise who ridicules the authorities and the best sleuths, though himself likes detective work. Especially if a beautiful woman is involved. 

Arsène Lupin (1971-1974), starring Georges Descrières, is one of the most popular series in the History of French television. In december 2014, Koba Films released a four-disc DVD box set of its first season.

« Voler oui! Et encore, à condition de ne voler que des nantis, que des injustes ou des exploiteurs. Et d'ailleurs Lupin ne vole pas. Il rétablit l'équilibre.  »

Created by French writer Maurice Leblanc (1864-1941), Arsène Lupin appeared in 39 short stories and 17 novels between 1905 and 1939. Several actors portrayed him for the cinema, including Robert Lamoureux in 1957 and 1959. In 1960, Jean Gascon played Lupin in a 13 x 25 minute adaptation of the novel L'Aiguille creuse for Canadian TV. During the decade, writer and director Jacques Nahum tried to convince French state television about an Arsène Lupin series. Nahum, who adapted The Saint with the film Le Saint mène la danse (1960), actually had Simon Templar in mind but couldn't get the rights.

At the end of 1968, L'Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française commissioned Jacques Nahum's Mars International Productions and Pathé to produce Arsène Lupin with them. Stage and movie actor Georges Descrières (of the Comédie-Française) was chosen for the title role in 1969. Germany's WDR, Radio-Canada, Austria's ORF, Belgian TV, Dutch pubcaster NCRV, Italy's RAI and Swiss TV joined as co-producers. International funding ensured classy production values and allowed Lupin to travel in Europe with his chauffeur Grognard (French Canadian actor Yvon Bouchard) (1) for most of the thirteen 60-minute episodes. The writers loosely based their scripts on Leblanc's work to favour a lighter character.

1. Le Bouchon de cristal. Lupin must save his protégé Gilbert from the guillotine after a burglary at the home of the wealthy Daubrecq goes bad. An impeccable premiere, adapted by Jacques Nahum & René Wheeler and directed by Jean-Pierre Decourt. With Nadine Alari (Clarisse) and Daniel Gélin (Daubrecq).

2. Victor de la Brigade Mondaine. Adapted by Claude Brulé and directed by Jean-Pierre Decourt. The new préfet has a secret weapon against Arsène Lupin: Inspector Victor. This splendid job by Brulé (« Vous êtes vraiment sûr que vous êtes vous? ») introduces Lupin's nemesis Commissaire Guerchard (Roger Carel, brilliant) and Countess Natacha (Marthe Keller), Arsène's accomplice and love interest.

3. Arsène Lupin contre Herlock Sholmes. Someone murdered banker Raoul Dautrec but left his "Diamant Royal". A classic penned by Claude Brulé and directed by Decourt. Henri Virlojeux and Marc Dudicourt are Holmes/Watson parodies Herlock Sholmes (« Mon cher et fidèle ami. ») and Wilson (« Mon cher et grand ami. »)

4. L'arrestation d'Arsène Lupin. Lupin is finally caught. Unless... Another gem from Brulé and Decourt and an award-worthy performance of Roger Carel.

5. L'Agence Barnett. Adapted by Nahum & Wheeler and helmed by Jean-Pierre Decourt, this uneven episode mainly focuses on the tribulations of Inspector Béchoux (Jacques Balutin).

6. La demoiselle aux yeux verts. Adapted by Albert Simonin with husband and wife Rolf & Alexandra Becker (Dickie Dick Dickens) and directed by Dieter Lemmel. This forgettable Bavaria Atelier production for WDR feels more like a cross between The Saint and Bavaria's Graf Yoster gibt sich die Ehre (1967-1976) than like Lupin. With Kathrin Ackermann as Lady Dora Bakefield.

7. La chaîne brisée. Written by Jean Marcillac. Adapted by Jacques Armand and directed by Paul Cammermans. Arsène Lupin is in Holland for this suprisingly good tale of espionage.

8. La femme aux deux sourires. Adapted by Albert Simonin, Dussio Tessari, Adriano Baracco and director Marcello Baldi. Italian icon Raffaella Carrà plays Antonina in this deplorable farce produced by Ultra Film for RAI.

9. La chimère du calife. Adapted by Simonin and R. & A. Becker. Directed by Dieter Lemmel and produced by Bavaria. With Gunnar Möller and Bernd Schäfer as Fox and Robertson, pale substitutes for Sholmes and Wilson.

10. Une femme contre Arsène Lupin. Adapted by Jacques Armand. Directed by Tony Flaadt. Produced by Regusci Film for SSR. François Simon and Louis Arbessier cannot save this Swiss stopover from boredom.

11. Les anneaux de Cagliostro. A mildly amusing Austrian entry adapted by Georges Grammont and R. & A. Becker. Directed by Wolf Dietrich.

12. Les tableaux de Tornbüll. Written by J. Namus. Adapted by Georges Grammont and R. & A. Becker. Directed by Wolf Dietrich and produced by Bavaria. Kathrin Ackermann returns as Lady Bakefield in this laborious painting heist.

13. Le Sept de coeur. An excellent Holmesian conclusion from Radio Télévision Belge adapted by Nathan Grigorieff and directed by Jean-Louis Colmant. Raoul de Manez guest stars as Maurice Leblanc.

The ORTF 2nd channel aired Arsène Lupin from March to June 1971 and its reception prompted the commission of a second season (1973-1974). Repeats helped to establish Georges Descrières as the definitive Lupin for generations of viewers, although Leblanc's fans may disagree. Amongst familiar French faces of the era (Bernard Lavalette, Pierre Massimi, Monique Tarbès...) or abroad, the nonchalant charisma of Descrières and his disguises make the series a special treat. Arsène Lupin's popularity also owes to the music composed by Jean-Pierre Bourtayre. The theme, arranged by José Bartel, is on a Bondian title sequence designed by Jean Fouchet for Eurocitel.

L'Arsène, the sublime end title song, was composed by Bourtayre and Jacques Lanzmann for French hit singer Jacques Dutronc. Bonus material of the Koba Films box set includes a video of Dutronc singing another (very good) version of the song, a biography of Maurice Leblanc and a text on the life of Lupin.

(1) Yvon Bouchard is dubbed by Francis Lax in some episodes.

See also:

- Les nombreuses vies d'Arsène Lupin by André-François Ruaud (Moutons électriques, 2005).
- Génération télé by Thierry Wolf & Stéphane Lenoir (Les Belles lettres/F.G.L, 1994).

Wednesday, 7 January 2015


In the 1950s, Commissaire Jules Maigret, a laconic, pipe-smoking French policeman, uses his profound knowledge of human nature to solve crimes. Volume 2 of the TV series Maigret (1991-2005), the definitive adaptation of the character created by novelist Georges Simenon, is available since last month in France on DVD.

The set from Koba Films contains eight episodes of the 54 feature-length installments starring the great Bruno Cremer as the detective.

« Monsieur le commissaire. Il ne faut pas m'en vouloir. C'est pour moi l'occasion d'en apprendre sur votre fameuse méthode.
- Mais j'ai pas de méthode. Et pour l'instant je ne sais rien. » 

English producer Steve Hawes, former head of drama at Granada Television, and French producers Eve Vercel and Robert Nador of Dune Production, devised Maigret for French pubcaster Antenne 2/France 2 when the channel axed Les enquêtes du commissaire Maigret (1967-1990) with Jean Richard to give its familiar figure a fresh start. Movie, stage and TV actor Bruno Cremer accepted the iconic role after due reflection, for 12 episodes only.

To radically differ from the previous version, the producers decided to set theirs in the Fifties with a cinematic feel, hence a budget that required co-production with Swiss and Belgian televisions, French private channel La 5 (declared bankrupt in 1992) and EC Télévision Paris. But also filming in Switzerland, Belgium, Czech Republic (which became an essential production partner) or Finland. Even South Africa and Cuba for some later entries.

Laurent Petitgirard composed and conducted the magnificent theme of Maigret, and the superb music of most of the series. Semi-regular cast includes Anne Bellec (Mme Maigret), Jean-Claude Frissung (Janvier) and Éric Prat (Torrence).

- La patience de Maigret (1993). Helmed by Polish director Andrzej Kostenko. Adapted by playwright Gildas Bourdet and Andrzej Kostenko from The Patience of Maigret. Agnès Soral (Aline Bauche), actor/director Claude Faraldo (Manuel Palmari) and Raoul Delfosse (le directeur de la PJ) return in this average follow-up to the weak Maigret se défend (1993). Swiss actor Fernand Berset plays le juge Ancelin

- Maigret et l'homme du banc (1993). Directed by Belgian filmmaker Étienne Périer. Adapted by Jean-Pierre Sinapi and Daniel Tonacchela from Maigret and the Man on the Boulevard. A man is stabbed to death. His widow tells Maigret that the body's tie and yellow shoes are not his. Périer definitely brings the series back on track. With Marie Dubois (Mme Thouret), Andréa Ferréol (Mariette), Julie Jézéquel (Monique) and Fred Personne (Saimbron). Samuel Le Bihan plays a young inspector.

« Je ne vois vraiment pas où vous voulez en venir, commissaire.
- Ah mais moi non plus, maître. Vous savez, au début d'une enquête on est dans le noir. On tatonne. »  

- Maigret et les témoins récalcitrants (1993). Directed by Michel Sibra. Adapted by Christian Rullier et Michel Sibra from Maigret and the Reluctant Witnesses. Léonard Lachaume, head of a biscuit factory, is found dead on his bed. An excellent episode where Denise Chalem (Solange) and Christiane Cohendy (Véronique) portray their characters with subtlety.

- Maigret et le fantôme (1994). Filmed in Finland by director Hannu Kahakorpi. Adapted by Henri de Turenne and Akli Tadjer from Maigret and the Ghost. Maigret flies to Helsinki in order to discover what Inspector Lognon was doing in Finland before someone tried to kill him. Heinz Bennent (Junker), Elizabeth Bourgine (Mirella) and Timmo Torikka (Ari) are amongst the guest cast. This co-production with Finnish channel TV1 astutely brings the quintessential French detective where you don't expect him.

- Maigret et l'écluse N°1 (1994). Directed by Olivier Schatzky. Adapted by Christian Rullier from The Lock at Charenton. French comedian, actor and director Jean Yanne delivers a brilliant performance as Émile Ducrau (« Entre une boniche qui a pas inventé les bulles et une femme qui pense qu'à son ménage, j'suis gâté moi. »), a rich owner of barges and quarries. Georges Staquet is perfect as Gassin in one of the best episodes of the whole series.

- Cécile est morte (1994). Directed by Denys de la Patellière. Adapted by Alexandre & Denys de la Patellière and Christian Watton from Maigret and the Spinster. Cécile, a young woman, regularly complains to Maigret about strange visits at her house during the night. Soon her aunt is strangled and Cécile is found dead not far from the police headquarters. Claude Piéplu, true to form, carries this very good installment as disbarred lawyer Charles Dandurand.

- La tête d'un homme (1994). Adapted from A Battle of Nerves by Christian Rullier and helmed by Czech director Jujaj Herz. Terrible, except for the presence of the talented Emmanuel Salinger as Radek. Marisa Berenson plays Mrs Crosby.

« C'est un homme comme vous que j'aurais dû épouser, commissaire.
- Trop tard. »
- Maigret se trompe (1994). Adapted from Maigret's Mistake, this beaufiful portrait de femmes from director Joyce Bunuel and writer Dominique Roulet concludes the box set. With Danielle Lebrun (Mme Gouin), Bernadette Lafont (Mme Brault), Brigitte Catillon (Antoinette Ollivier), Anny Romand (Mlle Decaux) and François Perrot (Docteur Gouin).

The eight episodes of this DVD set from Koba Films are on four discs. French subtitles for the hearing impaired are available. (An interview of Étienne Périer for MHz, which airs Maigret in the U.S.)

See also: