REVIEW Paris Police 1900 (S1 E3&4/8)

Last week’s opening two episodes of this richly-detailed and sprawling French period crime drama were a complete eye-opener.

In those first two hours of television, we were transported back to a world where brutal anti-semitism reigned, the 20th-century was beginning to blossom and a fractured society struggled to deal with the vicious murder of two young women.

And that’s not even mentioning a socio-political story that was every bit as important as the police procedural; nor the huge ensemble cast of characters, from policemen, spies, lawyers… it really was a dizzying, almost overwhelming start.

The good news? Things began to settle down, characters began to bed in and connections – that seemed so far away and unachievable in the first two episodes – were made. What that meant was the episodes three and four… were just insanely good.

The balance between tempo, character development and the combination of storylines was just right. Almost perfect you might say. I was utterly, utterly engrossed and beguiled… and just the impressive, cinematic feel and the sheer ambition of this piece almost took my breath away.

But how does one breakdown elements and characters when there’s so much going on? It’s time to adopt this approach again…

Antoine Jouin

Our young detective got a promotion in episode two to more or less lead the investigation into the death of Joséphine Berger, under the close eye of the wily Cochefert (man, he really does have an impressive pipe).

He’s a curious beast is Jouin and certainly not your normal lead character. He’s quiet with a simmering anger, somewhere beneath the surface but you also get the sense he’s idealistic, sensitive and very different from his counterparts at La Sûreté. In these two episodes, he’s desperately trying to find out the whereabouts of Joséphine, but also who the father of her child is.

Attention turns to her neighbour (who pimps out his wife to make ends meet), and to help translate some letters he comes into contact with…

Jeanne Chauvin

Jeanne Chauvin has quickly developed into great character. In these two episodes, she not only helps translate Joséphine’s letters but also forms a very intense bond with Jouin. Her sex scene with him was just fantastic. It was almost matter-of-fact but also… I’m not sure how to describe it. But it did help us to understand Jeanne more. She’s also incredibly idealistic, and has real fire in her belly – in a world where misogyny is rife, her proto-suffrage views singled her out as smart, ambitious and unlikely to take any nonsense from anyone.

And she had to take a lot of nonsense in these two episodes. She withstood a terrifying attack by Guérin’s thugs (who used vitriol to steal a cheque signed by Rothschild himself and Wiedmann’s office), and then performed a very important task – to fill Jouin in (and us, it has to be said) about the links between the Guérin family, the Dreyfus affair, butchers in Paris and poisoned meat and the French army, and one Gabriel Sabran de Pontevès.

This little summary literally took my breath away. The sheer complexity of the conspiracy, the incredible connections between criminality and the state… all woven together seamlessly with fictional and real character from history. It was like a French, period of a James Ellroy novel.

Meg Steinheil

Madame Steinheil is another fantastic, fantastic character. Recruited by Puybaraud and Fiersi to infiltrate the Guérin family, she was doing a pretty good job. When she was tasked with setting up Madame Lépine and getting incriminating photographs of her in a drug-addled reverie, she shuddered – she had never injected before, and when she was given heroin, she shuddered again.

But despite her obvious misgivings, she went ahead with the plan. She almost paid for it with her life.

When she came around, she admirably put a stop to Fiersi going that one, awful step too far. But you have to think things will end badly for Meg. She’s in Puybaraud’s pocket, and then she meets the dashing, aloof Gabriel Sabran de Pontevès at one of Guérin’s soirées.

Gabriel Sabran de Pontevès, who – Jouin has found out – just happens to be the father of Joséphine Berger’s child.

This isn’t going to end well, is it?

Police Chief Louis Lépine

I’m still not sure I have a full grip on Lépine. He’s enigmatic, taciturn, hard and tough, but in these two episodes also revealed a softer side to him.

And he had a lot on his plate, too. With the Drefus trial on the horizon, and Guérin’s league of anti-semites gathering some serious momentum he had to do something. Especially when he found out from Jeanne and Weidmann that they had the Rothschild cheque.

He strode into Guérin’s lair, and proceeded to demand the cheque and humiliated him. It was absolutely brilliant, a bravura scene straight from a Scorsese movie.

But all wasn’t well at home. After her brush with death Madame Lépine ended up in prison for the night. I half expected Lépine to abandon her, but he showed tenderness and an amazing gesture of support. He took the same Bertillon test she had to endure.

Joseph Fiersi

Puybaraud’s lapdog had been shifted to the Berger investigation to work with Jouin and Cochefert (good luck with that), but the J Edgar Hoover type would just not let him go.

Scared he was losing status and relevancy with Lépine in charge, he needed to close the Berger case. So he ordered Fiersi to turn the screw and fit up the neighbour; and to get a confession by any means necessary. he did so, but you could tell Fiersi was really beginning to feel conflicted.

Indeed, we had seen extended scenes with him and his young family at home, and he expressed doubt about his role in all of this. It remains to be seen whether he can escape his master’s iron fist and break free of the thuggish stereotype he’s become known for.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 5 out of 5.


5 Comments Add yours

  1. Elaine says:

    I did wonder after the first two episodes, whether this would be for me…I am certainly on board, but perhaps not as much as you, Paul! The intrigue is high, plot complex and the characters show promise, and I loved the scene where Lepine burnt the cheque, but I am not totally won over yet, and even though all episodes are on iPlayer, I can’t say I will rush and see them. But maybe that will change…


  2. Jane says:

    As well as admiring the cinematography (and some of the police scenes were a bit Wes Anderson weird), a big shout out also to the costume designers, I’m really enjoying the Fin de Siecle outfits


  3. Richard Walker says:

    Absolutely loving it, the production, the sets, costumes and the characters are so well portrayed. You can almost smell the atmosphere, best production I’ve seen since watching the wonderful Spanish “La Peste” and I’m still waiting to see the second series of that one.


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