Coming to the end of 25 years as mayor of Marseille, Robert Taro, played by Gerard Depardieu, is pulled into a war of succession by his formerly loyal protégé and deputy, Lucas Barres (Benoît Magimel), and the stage is set for a series of betrayals and revelations, with the criminal underworld of the city never far away.
Created by Dan Franck (author of both novel and screenplay of the movie, La Séparation), Marseille represents a big move for Netflix, as it’s their first globally high profile, native language show – a move to be unquestionably applauded – and so what kind of bang do we get for our Euro here?
Beginning and ending with Depardieu’s mighty frame snorting coke at the Stade Velodrome while Olympique de Marseille entertain the masses, like some debauched Roman emperor at the Coliseum, in between we’re treated to all manner of political and personal chicanery, leading to an ending which is all kinds of wonderfully over the top grand opera.
Depardieu just about manages to keep his character this side of sympathetic, but even after eight episodes it’s difficult not to feel that though he’s obviously having fun there’s nothing really stretching him, and needs a few big scenes with some salty dialogue to show what he’s really capable of.
Benoît Magimel, as the mayor’s seemingly loyal deputy, fares a little better, striding through the show trailing a mixture of charm, slime and grit but always managing to give us glimpses of the humanity beneath. Géraldine Pailhas and Stéphane Caillard as Taro’s wife and daughter respectively, are interesting but not massively fleshed out yet (a trait levelled against many of the supporting characters), it would be good to see both actors provided with a little more fire in their roles.
Netflix’s latest high profile drama series might lazily be described as a Gaelic House of Cards, but that would be doing both shows a disservice as each paints with a different palette. Franck’s show gives the city itself a richer identity, encompassing a more diverse social, economic and racial tapestry, which gives it a very distinct flavour to its network stablemate.
The show is atmospheric and engaging, unfortunately favouring style over substance, but when everyone is scheming, backstabbing and fucking with such glee it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the grimy fun. There might be nothing here we’ve not seen before, drama-wise, but the sheer French-ness of it all makes it an utterly compelling divertissement. And the show is likeable enough to hope that a second season might fill out the charming flesh on display and put a little more meat on the bones.
Unlike the French national anthem there’s nothing particularly revolutionary in Marseille, but it’s all done with such beaucoup de gusto that you won’t mind.