French TV shows are enjoying a bit of a moment. While the gentleman thief escapades of Lupin have caught the most attention recently – getting over 70 million viewers since its January release according to Netflix – there are a whole host of French dramas worth bingeing. From long-running crime shows such as Spiral to engrossing murder investigation mini-series like La Mante, these are the most gripping French-language dramas to watch next.
The hit French spy drama is led by Mathieu Kassovitz as Malotru, a DGSE agent who returns home to Paris after spending six years undercover in Syria. Part John Le Carre- esque spy thriller, part character drama, The Bureau follows Malotru as he tries to forget events that took place in Syria while focusing on training a new young recruit and tracking down a colleague who disappeared in Algeria.
Created by acclaimed French director and screenwriter Éric Rochant, the globe-hopping series crosses five seasons, following the suspenseful journeys of DGSE agents as they work to infiltrate jihadist groups and get increasinly entangled with the CIA and ISIS.
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A period drama that’s a far cry from Bridgerton, The Bonfire of Destiny is based on the real-life fire that burned through the Bazar de la Charité in Paris in 1897, killing 126 people. While the series kicks off with the horrors of the blaze, the mini-series is mainly focused on the struggles of 19th century French women.
The show follows three different women as they grapple with the aftermaths of the bonfire and the horror that unfolded inside that resulted in the deaths of so many, most of whom were women. There’s Adrienne de Lenverpré (played by Audrey Fleurot), an upper-class socialite who is desperate to escape her abusive husband without losing her child, her niece, Alice de Jeansin (played by Camille Lou), and Alice’s maidservant and confidante, Rose Rivière (played by Julie de Bona), each on a mission to reclaim their lives out of the horror of the tragedy.
The first original French language series commissioned by Netflix, this 2015 two-season show is a political thriller starring acclaimed French actor Gérard Depardieu. With House of Cards and Succession undertones, the series follows Depardieu as Robert Taro, a seasoned politician who after 20 years as the mayor of Marseille, is thought to be ready to hand over the reins to his protege, Lucas Barres (played by Benoît Magimel). But when a betrayal leads to Taro changing his plans, and a bitter battle for power ensues.
Grounded by Depardieu’s engrossing performance, Marseille is a deeply satisfying political thriller, with a city-wide power struggle that becomes increasingly complicated as right-wing nationalists join the fray and a shadowy conspiracy unfurls.
Offering a grittier alternative to Lupin, Spiral has been one of France’s top police dramas — think the Parisian equivalent to Law and Order and The Wire — since 2005, and is now in its eighth and final season. Much like the popular Danish dramas of today, Spiral’s leads are incredibly human and the show is rooted in their flaws, making it far more convincing and compulsive viewing.
Led by police captain Laure Berthaud (played by Caroline Proust), each season follows a new murder investigation, kicking off in season one with the brutal murder of a young Romanian woman that is tied to a complex network of corruption in the French capital. Covering every angle of the criminal justice system from the investigation to the courtroom, this critically acclaimed series is well worth starting right from the beginning.
For a crime series with an even darker side than Spiral, try the thriller miniseries La Mante. Set in Paris, the police force are struggling to find a psychopath terrorising the city with a series of murders inspired by serial killer Jeanne Deber (played by Carole Bouquet), better known as “The Mantis”, who was caught and imprisoned in solitary confinement 25 years earlier. Desperate, the police ask Deber to help them hunt down the copycat, who agrees on one condition — that she only work with her estranged son, Detective Damien Carrot (played by Fred Testot.)
A surprising twist on the usual crime thriller, the mother-son dynamic adds an intriguing layer to the hunt for the mysterious murderer. Each of the six episodes is packed with tension, as the duo must race against the clock to catch the killer before they strike again.
While the premise sounds like it’s set up to be a gory slasher movie, this over-the-top crime series is more of a suspenseful mystery than a gruesome horror show. The plot alternates between two timelines set 20 years apart — in 1997, Jean-Louis Rodier moves his family to his wife Françoise’s small hometown in the Alps in an attempt to overcome his writer’s block, but a series of mysterious events throws the family’s future into uncertainty. In 2017, a group of six friends head to a remote chalet in the Alps for a summer getaway, but their fun is cut short when a terrifying killer begins to pick off the group, one by one.
With a complex intertwining of the two storylines, this dramatic miniseries at times verges on the ludicrous, but unexpected twists and turns and plenty of jump-out-of-your-seat scenes will keep you hooked until the end.