Set on the mean streets of Paris, Dead Beautiful merges the murders, sex and seediness of Film Noir with character-led drama. The result, the latest acquisition by All4’s Walter Presents strand, is dark, compelling and utterly French.
Thierry Godard – best known as the curmudgeonly Gilou in Spiral – returns as another detective, once again curmudgeonly but also extremely loveable, in a big cuddly/scary silverback gorilla kind of way. A gruff, uncompromising alpha male – he’s reminiscent of Gérard Depardieu in the 1980s – Martin juggles three women: his ex-wife (Muriel Combeau), the police psychiatrist and his actual girlfriend, journalist Marion (Charley Fouquet). Somehow, he remains likeable, due to a combination of easy-going charm, well-hidden vulnerability and a hint of self-loathing.
“Everyone loves Martin,” says his police partner Jeanette (the wonderful Valérie Decobert-Koretzky). “Only Martin doesn’t like Martin.”
It helps, too, that his lovers, like the majority of the women in the show, are strong, confident and capable. The original title of the show in French was Les Dames (The Women), which refers not only to both victims and the perpetrators, but to the fact that, brilliantly, Martin’s life becomes full of pregnant women. First, his daughter (Clara Ponsot), then Marion, and even Jeanette gets in on the act.
This might sound like the set-up for a sitcom, but Dead Beautiful is first and foremost about murder. Each episode pits Martin against a new killer, many of whom are revealed to the audience from the beginning; it’s their motives and dark psychology we’re interested in – these are whydunnits rather than whodunnits.
The opening episode, despite having a lot of Martin’s personal life to fit in, still succeeds in delivering a taut tale of domestic violence and a killer who dispatches his victims with a homemade crossbow. The bloody finale has repercussions for the rest of the series, as Martin, suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, becomes more erratic than before.
The follow-up, set a few months later (judging by the size of the pregnancy bumps), sees Martin wallowing in depression, with his daughter, shrink and partner all unable to get through to him. Tellingly, it’s his ex-wife who calls him out on his self-loathing – a hint as to why, despite everything, he still needs her in his life. Such complex characterisation, together with grisly murders, suspenseful plotting, social realism and a damaged bear of a man as protagonist, brings to mind Jimmy McGovern’s Cracker. Like that classic of British TV, this French equivalent is essential viewing.
Dead Beautiful is available to watch online and download on Walter Presents.
For more information on the other foreign-language shows available, see our Walter Presents TV guide.