Category Archives: Paris Police

REVIEW Paris Police 1900 (S1 E7&8/8)

Before we go any further, you have to say Paris Police 1900 was a wholly surprising bolt from the blue. We got no fanfare, no prior warning… this eight-part series came from nowhere to become one of the best of the year, if not the best.

It’s been an incredibly immersive and cinematic series, as well as grand in scale in ambition; choc-full of flawed, complicated characters and a storyline that was as much a cautionary tale as it was a history lesson.

We got to see the full-blooded, terrible violence of turn-of-the-20th-century Paris in all its grisly ferment, all against a backdrop of fast-developing technology. And yet it always felt it was mired in barbarism – brutal murders, heinous, naked anti-semitism, gnawing sadness and violet encounters. How one would navigate such a contrasting world of opulence and affluence and poverty-stricken squalor is beyond me.

And it all revolved around a real moment in history – the Alfred Dreyfus affair – with fictional characters battling their own corners for control of the soul of the city.

With all this brutality swirling and the stand-off between Inspector Lépine and the loathsome narcissist Jules Guérin at the end of episode six, I was steeling myself for an almighty street battle between the police and the assembled leagues. However, that didn’t quite happen.

Instead, with Lépine and his men holed up on one side of the street and Guérin on the other side, they eyed each other intensely, Lépine reacting to Guérin’s plans with a steely calmness. However, chaos threatened to turn the city into a warzone – which is exactly what Guérin wanted, of course.

But he didn’t get the warzone. Instead, Lépine made a deal with the anarchists to snuff out the threat of the leagues’ marauders, and the outcome of the trial itself didn’t go Guérin’s way either. This led to implosion. All throughout the siege, the Guérin matriarch – a superstitious, deranged and dangerous woman – sought the aid of a clairvoyant to show her the way through the maelstrom. However, when the family lost the battle, their weaknesses were laid bare. From the outside, the Guérin mantra was all about ridding the country of Jews because they wanted a pure France, but now, as their money ran out, it was the end of the line. Like so many racists and thugs, it was all about the power and the money, not about the cause.

It ended badly as younger brother Luis committed matricide (that was quite the scene) and Jules was finally arrested.

And that was just one strand of this enormous story.

Puybaraud (I will never tire of that name spoken in French) finally got his just desserts after it looked as though he would be able to snuff out both Fiersi and Jouin and, thanks to Cochefort’s hospital internment, take over the whole damn precinct. But, as we guessed, it was Madame Lépine who dealt with him in the severest way possible thanks to the pistol she acquired from the police station. (Although even that was less than straightforward.)

Of course, Madame Lépine got away with it, which sort of seemed to be the way at the end of this series. Henri Sabran de Pontevès got away with everything – killing his daughter Joséphine Berger (this was the big twist in the episode), giving the order to bump off his son Gabriel, and controlling the abattoirs for so long. And although the Guérins imploded, we hardly saw them get the justice they deserved.

[UPDATE: I may have got this wrong… Gabriel killed his sister and the ‘chimney sweep’ disposed of the body… although you have to say, as grisly as it sounds, why he didn’t just take the body to one of the Sabran-controlled abattoirs is anyone’s guess]

This was the way of this finalé – you expected things to happen, but almost shyed away from them. Which was strange for a series that absolutely and routinely pulled no punches. For instance, Jouin was intent on capturing Gabriel Sabran for himself and in many other crime series, the ‘hero’ character would capture the big bad guy. Except here, the big bad guy didn’t turn out to be quite the big bad guy and he was shot in the head by Fiersi instead.

Minor gripes… well, not necessarily gripes, but slight surprise at the way they chose to end the story. Everyone carried on as kind of normal, carrying their demons and desires and trying not to let them mix.

(Although it has to be said, the way the morticians packed away Joséphine Berger’s dismembered body one part by one was not only extremely graphic but very pignant as well.)

In Paris Police 1900 we got some huge themes, world-building to an extent and plenty of incredible depth when it came to characters. Everyone from Meg Steinheil and Jeanne Chauvin to the ambiguous, enigmatic Lépines had flaws, flashes of brilliance and meaty backstories.

I stand by what I said before – this played out like a Scorsese movie written by James Ellroy, combining as it did incredibly flawed, flinty characters who crossed streams with one of France’s most sensational socio-political moments.

It was also suffused with a surrealist, grotesque kind of humour – think Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Delicatessen, especially when it came to the framing of Bertillon and his bustling gang of forensics.

There is a rumour that creator Fabien Nury wants to make four series of Paris Police… after watching this largely incredible first instalment, I would welcome each and every one of them with open arms.

Paul Hirons

Episode rating

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Series rating

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.





REVIEW Paris Police 1900 (S1 E5&6/8)

After last week’s simply superb double-bill, my hopes were high that this incredibly meaty, dense and cinematic series would carry on its intensity and intrigue. And more or less, it certainly didn’t disappoint.

You got the sense that episode five was almost a breather after all that action and craziness of the previous instalments – or at least in Paris Police 1900 terms – but episode six… goodness me, what an absolute thrill ride. It was choc full of thrilling set pieces, bloody retribution and a narrowing of the noose for several characters.

All this was played out in the socio-political ferment of a Paris on the brink of collapse. Actually, not just Paris, but France as a whole – Alfred Dreyfus had been transported back to France and was due to stand trial just over 200 miles away in Rennes west of the capital.

And you got the sense that the Dreyfus affair was really the touch paper for the whole story. Interestingly, Paris Police 1900 doesn’t really go into what happened there, but instead focuses everything on the repercussions, conspiracy and the skullduggery back in Paris. Especially now, as it narrows its focus on the Sabran family – who are in league with the Guérins, run the meat markets and are obviously a highly nefarious father-and-son team.

But let’s get to it…

Meg Steinheil

Although it featured all of our favourites, episode five really focused on Madame Steinheil, at various times looking more and more doomed as time ticked by. She got into bed (sometimes literally) with almost every faction in this story – Puybaraud, the Lépines, and, of course, Sabran the younger.

We first saw her in the sack with Gabriel Sabran de Pontevès and she had obviously fallen for his dangerous charms. What they didn’t know was the Jouin had sneaked into their little bolt hole and clocked that the insignia on one of his shirts matched the shirt found in the case containing the body of poor Joséphine Berger.

Clearly enthralled by Sabran, their affair came to an abrupt halt (of sorts) when Monsieur Steinheil caused a scene at home when he met Meg’s latest ‘Aunt Nelly’, and Sabran saw that she had a daughter. But later, after she had more or less quit as Puybaraud’s informant, she was summoned by Sabran the elder – a small, Bond villain-like aristocrat who was out to protect his idiot son and his family name at all costs. By the end of their tense meeting in one of Sabran’s abattoirs, Meg looked all the world as if she would be turned into du bœuf.


Joseph Fiersi

Fiersi’s moral about-around was complete in these episodes, especially after he found that his boss – Puybaraud – had evidence of Gabriel Sabran’s connection to Joséphine Berger. He also, by the looks of things, had an inkling that his boss was setting him up, so he went to Jouin tell him about Puybaraud’s role in protecting the Sabrans.

But there was more to come from Fiersi.

The brute with a heart received a message from Monsieur Steinheil, who told him that Meg was in danger. So Fiersi went to the abattoir and took out Sabran’s men in bloody fashion, getting slashed in the process.

With Puybaraud issuing a warrant for his arrest, the conflicted Fiersi laid low nursing his wounds, waiting for the right time to re-emerge.

This guys really reminds me of Russell Crowe’s Bud White in the supreme LA Confidential (there’s that Ellroy connection again).

Police Chief Louis Lépine and Madame Lépine

The Lépines are an extraordinary couple. They really are.

Madame Lépine set out about taking revenge with inexorable fury on whoever drugged her and took incriminating photos of her. In another amazing scene, she repeatedly and mercilessly slapped the Comtesse across the face until she gave up Puybaraud’s name. She then set about stealing a gun from the police station… it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s Madame Lépine who will take out Paris’s answer to J Edgar Hoover.

Meanwhile, her husband faced some dilemmas. The leagues were uniting in order to take advantage of ‘the moment’ as Guérin called it. He was also made aware by the wily Cochefert that Puybaraud and Fiersi had engineered the confession from Joséphine Berger’s neighbour, which meant the suitcase killer was still out there. But after he had told the press that the case had been solved there was no way he could go back on his word.

So he told Cochefert to concentrate on finding that chimney sweep and the killer of Emil the butcher. Clever, you see.

But Lépine is stoney-faced to the last, and you just knew his taciturn demeanour hid more shrewd and inspired thinking as he realised that he was in a corner with shadowy figure plotting his downfall. So he slowly, skilfully manoeuvred the situation until Puybaraud was putty in his hands, and he was standing toe-to-toe with Guérin, almost forcing him to make a move that would nail him.

He’s just terrific.

Antoine Jouin

The young Jouin really is hard to figure out. He’s super-sensitive, a hot head and his volatile relationship with Jeanne Chauvin ebbed and flowed in these two episodes.

However, it was the final scenes where he was involved the most – he was tasked with saving Joséphine Berger’s infant son from the convent from the clutches of the Sabrans, who wanted to get rid of this new, bastard heir to the family fortune. He pretty much succeeded, but there was a heavy price to pay – his mentor Cochefert was shot by the Sabran henchman.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.



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.


REVIEW Paris Police 1900 (S1 E1&2/8)

Paris, 1899. We’re approaching the end of a tumultuous century, and about to enter one that will be even more riven with war, death and despair. We’re on the streets and in the opulent salons and boudoirs of Paris. In one of them President Félix Faure has just died while receiving oral sex from his mistress, Marguerite Steinheil.

Quite the start.

Next we meet an angry husband who calls the police from La Sûreté – the French criminal investigation department – in order to catch his young wife in the act.

Again quite the start.

In the past we’ve had shows like Murdoch Mysteries, The Alienist, Vienna Blood, Ripper Street, Miss Scarlett And The Duke and the granddaddy of them all, Sherlock Holmes, populate this momentous era. It’s a rich and evocative time with stark contrasts between the slums and the rich, the superstitious and emerging scientific and technological breakthroughs. All of the aforementioned shows have a darkness to them in varying degrees. Paris Police 1900, however, begins in almost farce, a dark humour permeating the opening scenes.

But then you have to really concentrate, because this series sets its stall out not as a simple police procedural, but a 360º exploration of Paris and French society at the turn of that century. Because of this there are a lot of characters to get to grips with.

A lot.

Within La Sûreté alone there’s chief Puybaraud – a sort of J Edgar Hoover figure who engages in sneaky practices – and his thuggish henchman Fiersi, who brandishes a cosh and a knife to put the squeeze on informants. There’s Superintendent Cochefert, the yin to Puybaraud’s yang; a man interested not so much in espionage and informants but in genuine investigative work. And beneath that layer of leadership is taciturn young Inspector Antoine Jouin.

Jouin is quite obviously the hero in this piece, but for most of episode one he’s lost in the mire and the agendas of all of these floating characters. And we haven’t even mentioned stone-faced Police Chief Louis Lépine, who is called back to Paris to sort out the mess at La Sûreté and the feral, fractious city of Paris as a whole. (Although why he’s been in exile I couldn’t tell you.)

What’s going on in the streets of Paris is naked, explicit and horrifying anti-semitism. Leading this faction is Jules Guérin, a dangerous, violent populist who burns down Jewish newspaper stalls and beats owners and sons in the middle of the streets as well as slit the throat of piglets live on stage at his rallies (the scene in which he does this is genuinely awful and very shocking). Oh, and there are anarchists floating around causing trouble, too.

With Puybaraud enlisting Madame Steinheil as a new informant to infiltrate Guérin’s reprehensible gang, you’re left wondering half-way through the first episode how all of these dizzying narratives and characters will fit together and connect.

And then it comes. The body of a young woman is found hacked to pieces and stuffed inside a suitcase and left to float along the Seine.

After a pretty explicit post-mortem scene (honestly, in these first two episodes alone we saw hacked torsos, rabbits being skinned and piglets dying horribly… it’s very graphic), the series finally clicks into something actually resembling a crime drama. After the murder of his partner, Jouin begins to work with Cochefert more closely on the case of the woman in the suitcase and is sent to track down leads.

He finds that her name is Joséphine Berger, and little does he know that Puybaraud the thuggish Fiersi are also conducting a little side investigation – Berger was one of their informants.

So two investigations into one case, but coming from two very different angles.

These first two episodes reminded me a great deal of Babylon Berlin – with its huge cast of characters, brilliant production design, morally bankrupt characters and its insistence examining socio-political backdrops. If you want to do that, you have to get the balance just right.

And, I have to say, three-quarters of the way through episode one I wondered if the balance was right. There was too much going on. But the longer it went on, the more you get used to this world – the chaos, the filth, the rage and hatred, the competing ideologies. Throw in a seance, some bourgeoisie drug taking (the ladies who lunch shot-up to Chopin!) and you have all the themes from the era ticked off.

There were a few annoying elements. Superintendent Cochefert seemed only to exist to give information to Joulin about the case to set him on his merry way. He would hold a daily briefing, telling his young protégé and the team that he had a new lead, and ordered them to get onto them. But where did he gets these leads from?

Another trait Paris Police 1900 displayed was the rather predictable way suspects – or at least those who had information – were suddenly and conveniently bumped off after talking to either Joulin or Fiersi.

Just for good measure we also got to see the killer at the end of episode two, but we have yet to know his name or his angle.

There was so much to digest after these first two episodes. But there is an intriguing story in all of this. It’s not the usual join-the-dots Nordic Noir that we’re used to (I can just imagine Twitter’s reaction to all of this), but I have a feeling that if you can get into this series and soak it all up, Paris Police 1900 will be a rewarding experience.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 4 out of 5.

BBC confirms transmission date for Paris Police 1900

Saturday night on BBC Four used to be a real thing for fans of foreign-language crime drama.

Sadly it isn’t as much of a thing these days, but the channel still has one or two series up its sleeve.

The next cab off the rank is not Nordic Noir – it’s from France, and it’s called Paris Police 1900.

The series is described as: “A high-end, crafted slice of 1899 Parisian Noir unspooling as the capital seethes with anti-Semitism, violence, riots, conspiracy and the customary women’s subjugation of the age.”

The eight-part series kicks off with a scandal: Felix Faure, president of the French Republic, collapsing and dying after being intimately pleasured by his lover Meg Steinheil.

As anti-semitism rages in Paris – a young newspaper seller is viciously beaten by Anti-Semitic League leader Jules Guérin for merely selling the liberal paper “L’Aurore,” with an article by Emile Zola – a young woman’s torso is found in a suit-case floating down the Seine.

Based out of the Paris Prefecture, its police H.Q., Antoine Jouin, an ambitious but principled young inspector volunteers to investigate – and begin to put together the pieces behind the woman’s death, stumbling on far more evil than a single psychopath.

Paris Police 1900: Saturday 9th October, 9pm, BBC Four