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Saturday 6 June 2020

The Bureau (Bureau des Legendes), TV Series Season 1, Canal+ France, created by Eric Rochant starring Matthieu Kassovitz, 10* out of 10

Season 1 of the Bureau (available on Amazon) is an outstanding French espionage story. Tightly scripted, brilliantly played, with great character development even in the smaller roles it keeps the audience riveted with a plot that is cleverly embedded in current political developments in the Middle East and North Africa Region. Emotionally and intellectually satisfying binge-watching not only for COVID-19 quarantine times. 

Paul Lefebvre (Matthieu Kassovitz) is a French-teacher in Damascus, Syria at the beginning of the Syrian civil war. Except that he is neither a French teacher nor Paul Lefebvre but Guillaume Debailly senior undercover operative of the French Intelligence Service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE). Having spent six years on assignment in Syria, he is called back to his unit in Paris, the Bureaux des Legendes, the unit which trains, handles and provides the logistical infrastructure for these DSGE undercover operatives abroad. One of the loose ends to tie up is ending his romantic relationship with a married woman, the very attractive Nadia el Mansour (Zineb Triki) an Alawite Syrian Professor of Geography at Damascus University. On his return to Paris, he finds it difficult to forget her and when he finds out that she happens to be in Paris on a UNESCO sponsored programme, he cannot resist keeping his old identity in parallel with his new one for the clandestine prolongation of their affair, which has perhaps become more serious than intended. This, of course, goes against the rules of his employer, but he thinks he can handle the complications and protect himself and the Bureau from the risk that his relationship with Nadia might pose to him. But things are about to get a lot more complicated for all involved. Meanwhile, the Bureau des Legendes has hired Dr. Laurene Balmès (Léa Drucker) to keep an eye on its operatives and help them and their handlers and managers to ensure they can function well as they enter, stay in and leave the psychological pressure cooker each of their assignments puts them in. And, Marina Loiseau (Sara Giraudeau) a young new recruit is being prepared for an important new assignment in Iran by Marie-Jeanne Duthilleul (Florence Loiret -Caille), while a DGSE agent in Algiers is going off the rails with dramatic consequences. Clearly, Jacques Duflot (Jean-Pierre Daroussin), the Head of the Bureau, will need all of his cool to manage everything that he has on his plate and keep his superiors off his back.

Tightly scripted to fit into political developments in the Middle East and North Africa by the series creator Eric Rochant and his numerous colleagues, The Bureau makes for compelling viewing. The plot is intelligently constructed and developed. Moreover, an unusual amount of attention is given to detail in the character development even in the smaller roles and the dynamic between the different people working at the Bureau including their private lives. An excellent acting ensemble makes the appeal of the script to emotion and intellect credible. The Bureau is an outstanding example of suspenseful tightly scripted espionage thriller, a credible French pendant to the more emotionally stilted British John Le Carré plots and characters. I can hardly wait to start to binge-watching Season 2 tonight.

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