Paris Police 1900 on MHz Choice is a beautifully turned out French series exposing the underbelly of La Belle Époque Paris, whether in the salons of the wealthy or the slaughterhouses of La Villette. Two events kick off the plot. The President of France dies while receiving, um, services from courtesan Madame Meg Steinheil (Evelyne Brochu), and a torso is found in a suitcase floating down the Seine. Meanwhile, competing factions of anti-Semites and Anarchists (and more) are roiling both society and politics. The New Prime Minister implores retired police commissioner Louis Lépine (Marc Barbé) to return to Paris and restore order. But there are forces working against him within the police, most notably the corrupt, highly ranking Puybarand (Patrick d’Assumçao) and his fixer, Fiersi (Thibaut Evrard). Paris Police 1900 is meaty, and contains a lot of actual history, so it helps to have some background information.
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La Belle Époque
The era between 1871 and 1914 was retroactively dubbed La Belle Époque (The Golden Age) after World War I. La Belle Époque gave us the Paris most of us know, from the Eiffel Tower to the Impressionists. It was a time of great cultural leaps, and also, less known, social upheaval. One thing that you must know about going into the series is The Dreyfus Affair. Factually, the affair was this: A Jewish gunner in the French army was accused of selling secrets to the Germans, who were wrestling with France over the Alsace region at the time. Dreyfus was rushed through trial, found guilty and sent to Devil’s Island. Later, the true culprit was found, yet Dreyfus was AGAIN found guilty, but the sentence was commuted. He returned to the Army, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel after fighting in WWI.
The Dreyfus Affair had a profound effect on Paris, if not French, society. It gave rise to dangerous nationalism fueled by violent anti-Semitism, most famously led by the Guérin brothers (Hubert Delattre and Anthony Paliotti), who have a major role in Paris Police 1900. The liberal upper classes, or “intellectuals”, felt Dreyfus was unfairly tried and railroaded because he was Jewish. You may hear the term “Dreyfusards” or “Anti-Dreyfusards.” The bitter societal division bled into other issues and was internationally commented upon.
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Madame Steinheil is married to a painter, living in a beautiful home, but always in need of money. As the mistress of the former President, she has many connections in society. Puybarand hires her to join the Guérin brothers’ movement and report back to him. Commissioner Lépine wants to modernize the Paris Police by doing such things as putting a phone in every police station and giving citizens a number to call when they have an emergency. (!) Inspector Jouin (Jérémie Lahuerte) is a young cop who is in the right place at the right time and gets bumped up to Homicide to work the torso case. Jeanne Chauvin (Eugénie Derouand) is the Jewish lawyer who can’t practice because she is a woman, yet her boss allows her to take cases. Madame Lépine (Valérie Dashwood), the Commissioner’s wife, is addicted to injecting morphine. While apparently common among upper class women, it puts her husband in a compromising position.
Our Take on Paris Police 1900
Paris Police 1900 is exactly what you’d hope it would be: a well-funded costume drama with a complex plot, gory crime, and a huge cast, but with the added benefit of featuring actual people and a rich historical backdrop. Life was particularly harrowing for women, whose husbands could have them thrown into Saint-Lazare prison by claiming infidelity; and Jews, whose businesses, homes and lives were attacked in anti-Semitic riots. It’s a series you can really sink your teeth into, and may lead you down rabbit holes of researching the era. The only weakness, so far, is the actor who plays Jouin. I hate to pile on to others’ criticisms of him, but his wooden performance really stands out. While not a complaint, per se, I will say that the series moves quickly and it can get really confusing, especially when people become double agents. But I feel that is a fine price to pay for a satisfying show. If you love history and rich plots, Paris Police 1900 is for you.
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