Lupin on Netflix review: Paris’s gentleman thief steals the show

Arjun Neil Alim
·4 min read
<p>Omar Sy is a charismatic lead in Lupin</p> (Netflix)

Omar Sy is a charismatic lead in Lupin

(Netflix)

He brushes past you on the train to Normandy; he melts away in a sea of delivery riders through the Jardin du Luxembourg; he arrives at the Louvre in a three-piece suit to steal a priceless diamond necklace.

France’s gentleman thief, a mélange of Sherlock Holmes and James Bond in the mould of AJ Raffles, has captured the imagination of Netflix users in the past few weeks. The streaming service’s technique of making parochial content accessible to a global audience has scored an unexpected coup, with 70 million subscribers expected to tune in around the world this month – more than for either of the smash hit Anglo-Saxon series Queen’s Gambit or Bridgerton - for Lupin, a fast-paced five part French-language series that should make a global star of its lead.

Arsène Lupin is the protagonist of a century-old series of novels and short stories written by Maurice Leblanc. It is a French cult classic and the character of Lupin has appeared numerous times in cinema and television adaptations around the world. This new series, based in modern France, has its characters take inspiration from the classic story.

Assane Diop starts out the series down on his luckNetflix
Assane Diop starts out the series down on his luckNetflix

Assane Diop, played vivaciously by Omar Sy of Intouchables (2011) fame, leads the show as a man initially down on his luck. He begins the series seemingly a petty criminal: in debt, struggling to find work and in a broken relationship with his childhood sweetheart Clair (Ludivine Sagnier) with whom he has a son, Raoul (Lupin’s middle name, played by Etan Simon).

Diop is also, we learn, a mega-fan of Arsène Lupin, having grown up reading Leblanc’s crime novels as a boy, which inspired him amid the tragedy of his childhood – first losing his mother, then his father.

The show comes to life when Diop entangles his creditors into a heist for a piece of jewellery once owned by Marie Antoinette, which is appearing at auction at the Musée du Louvre. “We’ll go in as janitors and come out millionaires”, he promises. But as he has learned from his idol Lupin, the gentleman burglar, pronounced gent-EL-min by the French actors (avoid the insipid American-accented dubbing and watch it with subtitles), always has a double play up his sleeve.

The show sparks into life when Diop gets stuck in to a heist at the LouvreNetflix
The show sparks into life when Diop gets stuck in to a heist at the LouvreNetflix

Diop has set out to discover the truth about his father, Babakar (Fargass Assandé), sent to prison for stealing from the plutocratic Pellegrini family, who employed him as a chauffeur. Babakar dies there, and Diop, now an orphan, is sent to a posh boarding school by an unknown benefactor. Naturally, he grows up determined to right the wrongs inflicted on his father.

British writer George Kay, who also worked on the BBC’s Killing Eve and Netflix’s Criminal, gives the series a sense of urgency, with each episode ending on a fresh revelation. The early episodes flit back and forth between the current day and 1995, where we see Diop’s ‘origin story’ – could he indeed be a kind of justice-seeking superhero?

Diop is a master of disguise, taking advantage of his ability to stand out, and blend inNetflix
Diop is a master of disguise, taking advantage of his ability to stand out, and blend inNetflix

Let’s be clear - this is a comedy. The tone is light; Sy’s Diop overflows with charisma and humour. At one point, while pretending to be a policeman, he lets himself be persuaded by a gullible elderly woman to “look after” her valuable jewellery. He later sees the same woman at a chic restaurant where he is meeting his girlfriend Clair.

Diop is a master of disguise, transforming into a tech titan, IT geek and elderly man in quick succession. The show was made well before lockdown, but the way he uses his French-Senegalese identity to his advantage, standing out when he wants to, and blending in when he needs to, feels startlingly of the moment in the wake of the swelling of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“You underestimated me. You didn’t look at me. You saw me, but you didn’t really look,” he says at one point, and the series doesn’t hold back on showing the gritty reality of the neglected suburbs alongside picturesque central Paris.

Soufiane Guerrab plays Diop’s potential nemesisNetflix
Soufiane Guerrab plays Diop’s potential nemesisNetflix

The plot is somewhat predictable. Its arc suggests the dandyish criminal will meet his match in the geeky police detective (Soufiane Guerrab) who has linked his style of flashy heists to the classics of the fictional Lupin only to be met with ridicule from his colleagues. And there is a formula to the charming way Diop outwits his enemies over and over again. First they ignore him, then they oppose him, then they fight him, then he’s gone. But I devoured it. I’m already looking forward to season two.

Series one of Lupin is on Netflix