With its startling true-crime basis, a stellar cast and creative team, cinematic production values and theme song by David Bowie (not to mention comparisons to The Wire), there’s a lot to get fired up about…
By
Jim Mitchell

30 Mar 2016 - 4:19 PM  UPDATED 30 Mar 2016 - 5:49 PM

It’s based on the brazen true crimes of the Pink Panthers

The series opens with a spectacular jewel heist in Marseille that has all the hallmarks of the Pink Panthers, a network of robbers born out of war-torn Yugoslavia that has carried out a number of high stakes heists in Europe, Asia and the United Arab Emirates since 1993.

But where the Pink Panthers’ execution was flawless, this opening heist ends in tragedy, leading to even greater scrutiny and setting the story’s trajectory into the dark, corrupt heart of Europe.

The Pink Panthers got their moniker for stealing an estimated $1 million diamond which they hid in a jar of face cream, resembling the plot of The Return of The Pink Panther.

But these are no cat burglars. Their hauls from high-end locales from London to Paris, Cannes to Monaco have been carried out in Hollywood heist thriller style involving speedboat getaways and in their most infamous jewel theft, two Audis used to ram-raid a Dubai shopping mall.

The gang comprised of 200 to 250 people have stolen jewels worth up to an estimated $566 million. While the network has been depleted by arrests, the Pink Panthers are thought to still operate today.

 

The cast is stellar and diverse

The cast’s central quartet is led by acclaimed British actress Samantha Morton (In America, Minority Report, Movern Callar, Sweet and Lowdown, Cracker) who plays Naomi Franckom, a British insurance loss adjuster with a troubled past who has the dangerous task of attempting to recover the diamonds.

“There are always actresses that will look good, they really can’t cut the mustard but they’re edited well,” Morton said. “And then there’s people like me who are not beautiful but are real, you believe I’m a real person and I put my heart on the line and I put my soul on the line to perform as well.”

Oscar nominated British national treasure John Hurt (The Elephant Man, Midnight Express, Alien, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) is Tom Kendle, Naomi’s shady boss and a former member of MI6.

Filling out the multi-lingual cast is French actor Tahar Rahim, best known for starring in the Oscar nominated A Prophet. Rahim plays French Algerian cop Khalil Rachedi whose investigation will clash with Naomi’s.

 

It comes from some of TV’s best creative talent

The Last Panthers was written and co-created by the dynamic Jack Thorne, writer of the acclaimed This Is England series and Skins; and creator of mystery thriller Glue and supernatural drama The Fades. He’s also co-scripted alongside J.K Rowling the latest entry in the Harry Potter franchise, the play Harry Potter and The Cursed Child Parts One and Two opening in the West End this year.

Combining a cinematic approach with a veteran of quality TV, Johan Renck directs the entire series. Also known for directing music videos for the likes of David Bowie, Madonna and Kylie Minogue, Renck has directed episodes of high-end television series such as Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Bates Motel, Vikings and Bloodline.  

 

The idea for the series came from ‘the most connected man to European organised crime’

Of course, that description is subjective and probably not entirely definitive but French journalist Jérôme Pierrat has undeniably made a name for himself chronicling Europe’s criminal underbelly, his deep contacts helping to lend the series its gritty authenticity. The series is based on his years of research and testimonies from police, insurers, former Pink Panthers and Marseille drug dealers.

“The truth is important to Jérôme, and we did have some furious arguments, but I found that the truth can be freeing [as a writer],” Thorne told Television Business International.

“We were constantly looking for authenticity, looking for truth and the only way you can do that is by meeting these people and Jérôme is the most connected man in Europe when it comes to organised crime,” said Thorne at a Q & A at the world premiere of The Last Panthers at MIPCOM last year.

 

The Last Panthers’ makers put themselves in grave danger to research the series

“Researching with Jérôme at all can be a dangerous thing because Jérôme, as he puts it, has lots of ‘friends’ and those friends are people that normally you’d run away from but Jérôme had us running towards them,” said Thorne who spent two years researching with Pierrat in Marseille, the southern French seaside port notorious for its long history of organised crime.

Thorne admits the production crew found themselves in many “hairy” situations such as when producer Peter Carlton was “bottled” when negotiations to enter gangland territory Les Catalans, the notorious Marseille housing estate, broke down.

 

The theme song ‘Blackstar’ is by the late, great David Bowie

If you can imagine David Bowie in quasi-Gregorian-chant-electro-synth mode singing ominous lyrics to opening credit visuals worthy of a classy James Bond film then you have some idea of the coup The Last Panthers’ makers had on their hands.

The late music icon’s involvement came through his connection to director Renck and the result is Bowie’s original theme song "Blackstar", his first contribution to a movie or TV series in over two decades.

“I was looking for one of the icons of my youth to write the music for the title sequence,” says Renck, “but I was presented with a God.”

“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 world.”

 

The Last Panthers premieres on Thursday 31 March at 9:30pm (AEDT) on SBS – all episodes will also be available on SBS On Demand after they air.

Can’t wait that long? Watch the first episode right here and now: