‘Clive Owen has a real presence – he fills each scene with a real intensity’

Distributor Fifth Season
Producers Black Bear Television; Haut et Court TV
Length 6 x 60 minutes
Broadcasters AMC (US); Canal+ (France)

Adaptations of the work of crime writer Dashiell Hammett have been thin on the ground in recent decades. Films and TV series based on his work have largely faded away since the 1950s, and Humphrey Bogart’s portrayal of hard-boiled detective Sam Spade in 1931 classic The Maltese Falcon still stands as the definitive screen take on the iconic character.

So it is with some bravura that writer/producers Scott Frank (The Queen’s Gambit) and Tom Fontana (Homicide: Life On The Street) have resurrected this pre-war relic and dispatched him not to the tough streets of San Francisco but to the bucolic southern France commune of Bozouls.

Set in 1963, Monsieur Spade finds our hero in retirement, languidly sipping coffee in the market square and pottering over to the local boulangerie. Of course, it doesn’t take long for crime to come calling and this sleepy backdrop is soon scandalised by the brutal murder of six nuns in the local convent, with Spade learning they are linked to a child thought to possess great powers.

Bogart’s shoes are big ones to fill, but Fifth Season executive vice-president, EMEA sales and acquisitions, Jennifer Ebell says Clive Owen captures Spade’s brooding nature perfectly.

“Clive has a real presence - he fills each scene with a real intensity,” she adds. “Spade’s not charismatic or outgoing, but there’s an ambiguity there – his wife has passed and he’s escaped San Francisco but he is very grounded in this simpler, slower-paced world.”

Owen is a big international name and comes fresh from playing a paranoid, possibly murderous, hi-tech billionaire in Hulu/Disney+’s A Murder At The End Of The World.

The supporting cast is a mixture of English-speaking and French actors, including Cara Bossom (Deep State), Rebecca Root (The Queen’s Gambit) and Matthew Beard (The Imitation Game), plus Denis Ménochet (Inglorious Basterds) as a police chief.

Having some famous, but not over-saturated, IP and not slavishly recreating it is an intriguing offer, and the show has had some good notices from potentially sceptical critics in the US, where it aired weekly on AMC (Canal+ is also showing it in France).

As co-creators, Frank and Fontana bring premium event series experience to the table, having served on The Queen’s Gambit’s Netflix sibling Godless and Canal+’s period smash Borgia, respectively. Frank also serves as director on Monsieur Spade.

Alongside Owen, Barry Levinson, Teddy Schwarzman, Michael Heimler, Caroline Benjo, Barbara Letellier, Simon Arnal, Carole Scotta, Carlo Martinelli and David Helpern serve as executive producers.

“Everyone knows the film, even if they don’t know Hammett’s books,” says Ebell. “But the calibre of this brand, coupled with Owen, and Frank’s pedigree with The Queen’s Gambit, gives us a lot to hang this on.”

Small wonder, then, that Fifth Season jumped in to take over distribution from FilmNation when the opportunity arose late last year.

Unfolding over six episodes, Ebell sees Monsieur Spade as appealing to “premium, thinking crime fans”, but says the setting, not too far from Britbox’s Murder In Provence, offers some “cosy crime” appeal too.