Image: Emmanuel Guimier/Netflix

Why France’s modern gentleman spy in ‘Lupin’ is a Netflix hit

Heist shows always have an element of thrill, and Netflix’s latest heist hit in Lupin combines twists, turns and theatrics. Its success across the globe was unexpected: Lupin was the first French programme to enter into the US Top 10 most streamed shows. A modern retelling of the Arsène Lupin novels written by Maurice LeBlanc at the start of the 20th century, the show’s plot and lead character are both inspired by the gentleman thief. Assane Diop, the show’s protagonist played by Omar Sy, is an Arsène Lupin fanatic. Due to both his love of the novels and unfortunate events in his life, he has become the character incarnate. 

From boyhood up until the present day, Assane uses the books as a guide to how he will get away with modern day schemes, with the novels frequently referenced in the show. The series is not necessarily a strict following of the tales told by LeBlanc, creating a character who may embody Lupin, his crimes, and values. The image of Lupin is transformed onto a new figure, no longer a white aristocratic man, but a black immigrant living in Paris.

Opening with a bang, we see Assane perform a monumental heist. The prize he is vying for: Marie Antoinette’s necklace. The necklace was previously believed to be missing after being stolen by none other than Diop’s father. Throughout the first series we learn the motivations behind the heist, and how Assane’s past is entangled with the object he’s stolen. Flicking between the past and the present, the personal and the public, the show focuses on getting the audience to learn about the man behind Lupin. 

It’s hard to see where Assane stops and Lupin starts and, after his performance in the show,  it’ll be hard to detach the image of Lupin from Sy for years to come

Season two of the show starts on a much darker note with Assane driven to fight for his family as his nemesis gets personal. Hugo Pellegrini (Hervé Pierre), the show’s villain, is depicted in his pursuit to keep his decades of corruption (including the framing of Diop’s father) out of the public eye. The final episode takes place mainly in a concert hall, an aptly theatrical venue for the story to come to a resolution. Even the final episode packs plot twists that would have been hard to predict prior to their revelation.

Creating this new Lupin is Omar Sy, whose love of LeBlanc’s novels are seen as a key factor in bringing forward this adaptation of the gentleman spy. Sy makes the character enigmatic; you are drawn into everything playing out before you on screen, with Sy making every moment of George Kay and François Uzan’s plot come to life beautifully. It’s hard to see where Assane stops and Lupin starts and, after his performance in the show, it’ll be hard to detach the image of Lupin from Sy for years to come.

Furthermore, Sy’s Lupin/Diop is surrounded by characters who themselves feel fully rounded. We learn lots about Assane’s complex relationship with his family, as well as how dependent he is upon his life-long best friend Benjamin, both personally and professionally. We also get to see the intellect of his unlikely ally, police officer Youssef Guedira (Soufiane Guerrab), who becomes the Ganimard to Assane’s Lupin. Because of similar dynamics in the two tales, people might try to draw comparison between Netflix’s show and BBC’s Sherlock, which wouldn’t be unfair due to the origins of the novel. However, Lupin has a more likeable protagonist – Sy’s Lupin is never arrogant like Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is – and the show contains a lot more thrill and greater thematic messages. 

The show exposes some of the key evil undercurrents in society: the power of the rich, institutional police corruption, classism, and how deeply racism is ingrained into society

The show exposes some of the key evil undercurrents in society: the power of the rich, institutional police corruption, classism, and how deeply racism is ingrained into society. These four forces go hand in hand, epitomised by Pellegrini and every single action he takes to try to retain power. The show also symbolises those trying to do good within the world while being ignorant to its evils, and those who are complicit in upholding them in order to protect those innocents too. These two groups of people are characterised in Pellegrini’s daughter Juliette and ex-wife Anne respectively.

It’s for this reason I think the show has been such a hit among audiences. We all love a good heist plot: it’s one of the few genres where we are automatically driven to root for the criminal. But you root for Assane just a little bit more because the key crime is one of principle and achieving justice rather than greed. 

Confirmed for a third series, it’ll be interesting to see if the writers continue this central theme of the new Arsène Lupin story. Either way, the first season of Lupin is more than just a heist show, making the modern day telling of the story of the gentleman spy a massive hit. A perfect piece of lockdown media at its initial release, and continuing the momentum in its second instalment, Lupin deserves all the hype it receives. 

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