A modern take on the legend of Arsène Lupin, the Gentleman Thief.
Netflix has no shortage of crime dramas for you to happily binge on, but they all tend to be relatively similar in their content – definitely a case of their algorithms serving up what is popular, which tends to be cookie-cutter murder mysteries with a clickbait-worthy twist or two. What the service seems to lack though, are shows that work with the same idiosyncratic formula of a big hit like Sherlock – larger than life characters, a dash of intrigue, a lot of adventure, a little comedy amongst the drama – and a charming protagonist to bring it all together.
Lupin fills that gap, and then some.
Based loosely on Maurice Leblanc’s iconic character Arsène Lupin, this modern update sees the charming Omar Sy plays Assane Diop, the son of a Senegalese immigrant whose untimely death is the catalyst for this initial five-part section of the first season (subtitled Dans L’Ombre D’Arsène, or ‘In the Shadow of Arsène’), with a further five parts due later this year. This initial part concerns itself with exploring Diop’s motivations as he utilises a skill-set inspired by the adventures of his childhood hero Lupin, to exact revenge on the Pellegrini family who precipitated his father’s demise.
It’s almost a fairytale in itself – albeit a grim one – as we cut back and forth in time to see the teenage Diop arrive in France with his sweet-natured father Babakar (Fargass Assandé), who works as a chauffeur for the odious millionaire Hubert Pelligrini (Hervé Pierre) and his well-intentioned wife Anne (Nicole Garcia). But when Hubert accuses Babakar of stealing a priceless necklace from the Pellegrini’s home, the subsequent fallout (and botched police investigation) results in Babakar’s suicide. Twenty five years later, the necklace resurfaces and is auctioned at the Louvre – the spectacular location where Assane will commit an even more spectacular robbery that kicks off a grand adventure full of twists and turns.
And it’s an absolute blast to watch.
Most of the enjoyment in this stems from Omar Sy’s fantastic performance as Assane. He’s charming but duplicitous, shape shifting into whichever role is required to perpetrate his crimes. Sy gives the role everything, and you can’t help but be bowled over by his personality. It’s never grating though – there’s plenty of pathos on display here too, not just in the tragedy of his father’s demise but how he tries to transmute that grief into something better for his own son, Raoul. We’re never quite sure where the fantasy meets reality in how Assane inhabits Lupin’s characteristics, and certainly elements of the show feel fantastical – but the humanising stories around his father and son help ground the narrative. Likewise, whilst we’re aware that Assane is intended to always be the smartest guy in the room, his meticulous schemes don’t always go according to plan – and seeing how he adapts and operates within these shifting parameters is part of the appeal.
Every good heist story has a howdunnit attached to it, and Lupin is no different – in the initial episode we explore the set-up of a job and it’s fallout from different perspectives, finally revealing how Assane managed to swipe the jewels and escape the law. It’s a well-crafted conceit that continues to delight in the later episodes – and the quality of the show is thanks largely in part to writer and showrunner George Kay, who has a formidable resume with marquee productions like Killing Eve, The Hour, and Criminal to his name. Here, the script has a lightness of touch that really does feel like a breath of fresh air amongst all the relentlessly dark offerings that share it’s streaming service home.
One thing that often resonated throughout my own childhood navigation of Lupin’s stories and those from other similarly quintessential French cultural icons – everything from TinTin to Mobeius – is that at their core there’s always a sense of grand adventure. That feeling of sweeping scale and whimsical schemes comes over incredibly well in Lupin, which makes great use of it’s Parisian locations to thread together the story of how Assane came to be like his idol. It’s a fresh and funny modern take on the original character with enough nods back to the source material to keep long-term fans happy as well as newcomers alike.
Lupin is available to watch in the UK on Netflix