The latest Netflix phenomenon is Lupin, a swaggeringly stylish and addictive drama which has just become the streaming service’s biggest-ever French show. The spellbinding story of a self-styled “gentleman burglar”, starring Omar Sy, it has come from nowhere to rank second on Netflix’s top 10 list in the US; in fact it has shot to the top spot in 20 countries and counting, making it, at the time of writing, the most-watched programme worldwide. Netflix expects a staggering 70 million households to stream it in its first 28 days, overtaking Bridgerton, Cobra Kai and The Queen’s Gambit.
Zut, if you will, alors. But how has this professional thief stolen viewers’ hearts across the globe?
The closest comparison to Lupin is the Benedict Cumberbatch-led reboot of Sherlock, which became a similar global sensation in 2010. But as a thief rather than a thief-taker, Lupin’s hero is the anti-Sherlock – the sort of master criminal whom Holmes might pursue. A debonair “gentleman-cambrioleur”, with a monocle and top hat, the original character of Arsène Lupin is much loved in France. He first appeared in serialised magazine adventures by Maurice Leblanc in 1905. The dashing rogue chose deserving targets and pulled off his robberies with panache; he cared only about charming women, getting the last laugh and using his gifts for good. Leblanc went on to pen 17 Lupin novels and 39 novellas, and since then there have been two dozen Lupin films, countless stage plays, a popular Seventies TV series, a long lineage of comic books and several video-games.
This new take updates the action to contemporary Paris, where Senegalese immigrant Assane Diop (Sy) is inspired by Lupin to become a gentleman thief himself. We soon learn that he’s also a man on a mission, seeking revenge for a tragic injustice. When Assane’s family first came to France, his widower father Babakar became the valet to a wealthy white family, but was accused of theft by his employer, the powerful Hubert Pellegrini (Hervé Pierre). When Babakar was jailed, he hanged himself in his cell out of shame, leaving his 14-year-old son an orphan.
Now, 25 years later, and using the dog-eared Lupin first edition his father gave him for his birthday as a template, Assane sets out to take down the Pellegrinis. He hatches a plan to use his well-practised skills of sleight-of-hand, subterfuge and disguise to expose Hubert’s crooked business practices. The opening episode finds Assane masterminding the heist of Marie Antoinette’s diamond necklace from an auction at the Louvre, and subsequent capers see Assane breaking into, then out of, prison, and kidnapping a police commissioner. We also get flashbacks to Assane’s youth and his tangled romantic history, alongside the overarching mystery of whether his father was framed and why.