Sunday 24 September 2023

TV review: Class Act, Netflix (2023)

A story about a businessman in France who became involved in politics, this show is wonderfully entertaining. Based in parts more strictly and in other parts more loosely on the truth – obviously the scriptwriters didn’t have access to day-to-day conversations between Bernard Tapie and his wife – this series is about what it means to grow up poor in a country where, even today, social mobility is low.

Much lower than it is in Australia.

Tapie is rough but engaging, a man whose father was a heating mechanic and who got into business by promoting one good idea – a subscription service for appliances. He parlayed his success into other ventures and ended up working as the manager for a football club, Olympic Marseilles. I won’t spoil the fun by invoking too much detail about how his downfall arrived, but let’s say that it involves fast practices. French readers will of course already know the truth, if not all the details.

Tapie is played by Laurent Lafitte and Dominique, his wife, is played by Josephine Japy, both of whom support their roles perfectly. Dominique is charming and intelligent, Bernard is likewise but he’s also a bit brash, a bit not-quite-the-thing. During the course of the movie Bernard’s daughter from his first marriage grows up and joins him in his undertakings. Bernard’s son with Dominique also grows up. Bernard and Dominique obviously don’t get older as they’re played by the same actors throughout, and while this seems a bit forced it ultimately works because of the pace of the program. 

Bernard is a symbol of something that France wants but doesn’t quite know how to attain: financial success. This is what draws Francois Mitterand, the president, to introduce Tapie to politics as the minister for urban affairs. Looking back Tapie’s innovations in regard to his portfolio seem spot on but political realities mean that he’s only in his role for a short period of time. Perhaps if the Socialists had kept Tapie on in the job he might’ve really achieved something, but his methods were too different (as usual) for those around him. Tapie thought at lightning speed and didn’t suffer fools gladly, so rubbing people up the wrong way not only caused problems but it stemmed from the same place that gave people something to admire.

A meteor who shone brightly in the sky of France’s fin-de-siecle firmament, Tapie was born to rule but never got the chance. Good miniseries though. Our gain is France’s loss.

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