The Last Panthers, Sky Atlantic, Samantha Morton

Tahar Rahim as Khalil

Panther hunter – Tahar Rahim as Khalil

A gritty, riveting Euro-drama with a blockbuster cast and superb writing, direction and production 

★★★★½ Sky Atlantic, Thursday, 12 November, 9pm

WHILE we Brits prepare for the referendum to decide whether to go it alone outside of the EU, Sky Atlantic has embraced the Continent with this bold and ambitious Euro co-production.

It’s a big, complex tale about the real-life Pink Panthers gang of jewel thieves, the Balkan-based network of ex-servicemen and criminals who carried audacious and spectacular gem raids throughout Europe. At the same time, it offers a glimpse of the pan-European crime scene and the fallout from the breakdowns of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.

It’s also a far more sophisticated drama than mainstream whodunits of the sort set around Oxford and Midsomer. And finally, with a terrific script and direction, knockout cast and title music from David Bowie, it must be the best series Sky has ever made.

The Pink Panthers hit Marseille

First, the story. Episode one kicks off with a heart-pounding heist in a marble-clad jewellery store in Marseille. This is being carried out by members of the spectacularly successful gang dubbed the Pink Panthers by the media.

The Last Panthers, Sky Atlantic

Samantha Morton as Naomi

However, as Milan Novak (Goran Bogdan) and his team flee the scene, the robbery goes badly wrong and an innocent girl is shot dead. English insurance company loss adjustor Naomi (Samantha Morton) is ordered to Belgrade, where the gang has its base, by her boss Tom (John Hurt) to recover the gems.

While her involvement annoys French detective Khalil (Tahar Rahim), Naomi’s return to the Balkans revives bad memories of her time in the military when she served there on behalf of the UN during the mid-90s conflict.

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The Last Panthers title sequence with David Bowie

David Bowie writes title track for The Last Panthers

David Bowie The Last Panters

David Bowie has written the title music for The Last Panthers, his first such soundtrack contribution for 20 years

Samantha Morton in Sky Atlantic's The Last Panthers

Samantha Morton as Naomi in The Last Panthers

Wowie Bowie! The man himself has written and recorded the title music for Sky Atlantic’s big new thriller six-parter The Last Panthers. Starring Samantha Morton and John Hurt this is a trans-Euro production about banksters and heists. Director Johan Renck says: ‘I was looking for one of the icons of my youth to write the music for the title sequence, but was presented with a God. His first response was precise, engaged and curious. The piece of music he laid before us embodied every aspect of our characters and the series itself – dark, brooding, beautiful and sentimental (in the best possible incarnation of this word). All along, the man inspired and intrigued me and as the process passed, I was overwhelmed with his generosity. I still can’t fathom what actually happened…’

 

Major new crime dramas for autumn

The Last Panthers, Hand of God, Narcos, Lucky Man, The Five

THE SETTING at the exclusive top-floor club of London’s Gherkin was swanky enough to impress to the shady ‘banksters’ featured in Sky Atlantic‘s ambitious new Euro-thriller The Last Panthers.IMG_0844

The channel had taken over the glass eyrie with its mesmerising views of the capital, pictured right, to treat journalists from Britain and France to a glimpse of the work in progress. TV critics from The Times, The Guardian and Heat, along with CrimeTimePreview, mingled with Sky’s MD of Content Gary Davey before viewing selected scenes from the multi-lingual crime drama, starring Samantha Morton, Tahar Rahim and John Hurt.

The dinner event and wonderful location were a sign that Sky Atlantic has high hopes for this sophisticated series. It’s a partnership production between Sky Atlantic, Canal + and Sky Deutschland and is filmed in London, Marseille, Belgrade and Montenegro.

The story is based on an idea by French journalist Jerome Pierrat, an expert on Europe-wide crime. It is inspired by the Pink Panthers, Interpol’s name for a real gang of Serbs and Montenegrins, several of them former soldiers, who performed audacious jewel heists, targeting several countries.IMG_0841

The drama begins with a tense jewel robbery, but the story also shifts the narrative back to 1995 and traces the roots of the gang. It looks like a big, sweeping thriller. Samantha Morton glams down for the role of the loss adjustor sent to Balkans, while John Hurt is the seasoned honcho who’s her boss. In English, French and Serbian, The Last Panthers looks to have a lot more going on in it than your average episode of Lewis.

It’s scheduled for November…

Moving on, just take a look at this new series coming from Amazon Prime on 4 September. Hand of God! starring Golden Globe winner Ron Perlman, fresh from Sons of Anarchy, looks just a little unhinged. He’s playing a bent judge in a bind who seems to think he’s  been chosen by God himself to seek vengeance. It’s certainly off-kilter enough to be worth a gander.

Netflix also has a major new crime drama streaming soon. Narcos is a big show telling the story of US and Colombian efforts during the 1980s to take on the mega-powerful Medellin drug cartel. The trailer makes what is a complex and bloody story look like a rollicking good action series, but trailers can be misleading. It will be interesting to see if Netflix can do this huge story justice.

Finally, Sky1 also has two intriguing series looming. Lucky Man stars James Nesbitt in a high-concept series created by comic-book legend Stan Lee (co-creator of Spider-Man, the Hulk etc). Nesbitt plays a cop from London’s Murder Squad who is given an ancient bracelet that gives him the ability to control luck. This has an attractive cast, including Eve Best, Sienna Guillory and Darren Boyd, and what could be a fascinating premise.

Co-creator Neil Biswas says: ‘Is the bracelet really bringing him luck, or is it just another manifestation of the gambling addiction that has always plagued him?’

There is also a lot of buzz around The Five, bestselling thriller author Harlan Coben‘s first original story for TV. Created by Coben, writer of novels such as Tell No One and Gone for Good, and scripted by Bafta-winner Danny Brocklehurst, this 10-parter follows a group of friends haunted by a terrible incident in their childhood. It stars Tom Cullen, O-T Fagbenle, Lee Ingleby and Geraldine James.

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