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Previews

Previewing Monsieur Spade 

Previewing Monsieur Spade

[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]

Way back there in 1999, Clive Owen came onto my radar with a PBS-imported British series called Second Sight, about an inspector losing his eyesight. Around the same time, he also appeared in a series of bananas BMC commercial/mini movies called “The Hire” (which you can find in various forms on YouTube). I was hooked, and was also subsequently one of those who really, really, really thought he should and fully expected that he would be named the next James Bond.

Monsieur Spade

While that didn’t come to pass, Owen has since spent the last 25-ish years meandering around lead roles in blockbuster and independent films, and a decade ago, returned to series TV with Showtime’s The Knick. In 2021, he played Bill Clinton in an installment of American Crime Story and appeared alongside Julianne Moore in Apple TV+’s Lisey’s Story. In 2023 and 2024, we’ve been given an embarrassment of riches. First, Owen was a megalomaniacal tech titan in FX on Hulu’s addictive A Murder at the End of the World (now streaming its whole season), and beginning Sunday, he headlines AMC’s Monsieur Spade, which I seriously hope is the first season of many to follow.

Monsieur Spade

As digital and AI-heavy as A Murder at the End of the World was, Monsieur Spade is delightfully analog, throwing it all the way back to 1955. Owen is Dashell Hammett’s “Maltese Falcon” American private detective Sam Spade, newly arrived in France to deliver a young girl, Teresa, to her father after the death of her mother. The road to the hand off is bumpier than he expects because the father, Phillippe (Jonathan Zaccaï) is a criminal and in the wind, and the grandmother (Caroline Silhol) is no help, but the silver lining is that he meets his wife, Gabriella (Chiara Mastroianni) and decides to stay. And that’s just the first bit of the premiere.

Monsieur Spade

Then the action jumps forward to 1963. Spade is still in the picturesque town of Bazouls, but his circumstances have changed and he spends his days roaming the vineyard and grounds of the estate where he lives and swimming in the pool Gabriella insisted he use. He makes the rounds of the town checking on his now-teenage charge (played by Cara Bossom), who lives at — and is very well cared for by — the local church-run orphanage housed in a convent.

Monsieur Spade

He also co-owns a small night club and enjoys a flirty repartee with his married partner, Marguerite (Louise Bourgoin), much to the chagrin of her weary and PTSD-afflicted husband, Jean-Pierre (Stanley Weber). The undercurrent of the timing is that Jean-Pierre and others are still recovering from the fallout of the Algerian War, which is referred to in whispers and flashbacks and is a fresher wound than the second world war, although, it, too, left the town and its people with scars following the Holocaust.

Monsieur Spade

When an unspeakable crime happens, Spade is pulled out of his idyll and back into the mix, not only to protect his displaced (and rebellious) young charge, but also to safeguard his small community. That gets a bit more complicated as he unearths the multilayered reasons for the crime, but thankfully he’s not alone in figuring it out or fighting back.

The cast of characters also includes the the village’s doctor, Simon (Vincent Nemeth), and its police chief, Patrice (Denis Ménochet), with whom he enjoys a begrudging alliance, his housekeeper Helena (Clotilde Mollet) and her grandson, Henri (Oscar Lesage), and the peculiar neighboring mother and son (Rebecca Root and Matthew Beard) who declare a historical tie to his property. We also get Dean Winters dropping in as a Vatican representative with murky loyalties.

Monsieur Spade

As it happens, I watched all of this last week and then caught Equalizer 3 on Netflix. I was struck by the similarities between Owen’s Spade and Denzel Wasington’s Robert McCall. Both just want their peace, at long last, and when it’s threatened, they are both prepared to scorch the earth to protect and maintain it, although Owen’s intervention is much more low-key and much less violent. That’s not to say Monsieur Spade isn’t violent. It most certainly is, in startling bursts, but they’re scattered throughout without being overbearing.

It’s a great role for Owen, and he’s supported by an equally fantastic ensemble cast. Tom Fontana (most recently City on a Hill) and Scott Frank (most recently Queen’s Gambit) created and co-wrote the season, and Frank directed all of it. I loved the slower, deliberate pace and the blissfully old school vibe. Aside from early days intelligence community tools, the action comes down to good old-fashioned detective work and human relationships.

Monsieur Spade premieres Sunday, January 14th, streaming on Acorn TV and AMC+ at 3:01 am/2:01c and linearly at 9 pm/8c on AMC. Here are a few sneak peeks.

Photos courtesy of Jean-Claude Lother/AMC; videos courtesy of AMC

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