A diamond robbery has all the hallmarks of a gang known as the Pink Panthers. But there is collateral damage as a little girl is killed during the raid. A story unfolds that brings together a British insurance agent, a French-Algerian policeman and a Serbian diamond thief.
But this is not a story of the glamorous world of daring criminals seeking a life of luxury. Based on real events, The Last Panthers reveals a new type of crime that brings together traffickers, drug dealers, bankers and war criminals whose aims go far beyond the pursuit of personal wealth and ultimately threatens the stability of society.
The Last Panthers began as an idea from celebrated French journalist Jerome Pierrat. It was commissioned by Sky Atlantic and Canal+ and developed and co-produced by Haut et Court TV and Warp Films. Shot on location in London, Belgrade and Montenegro, it is distributed by Sky Vision and StudioCanal’s Tandem.
British actor Samantha Morton plays insurance agent Naomi, which she said is “the role of a lifetime”. In the series Morton plays both the 20-year-old Naomi and her character today. “The complexity of the years and the detail and depth which Jack and Peter have put into this character — the total dedication to truth and finding her — is very rare,” she said. Morton refers to series co-creator Jack Thorne and Warp Films’ Peter Carlton, who came in early on the series with Pierrat and Haut et Court TV’s Caroline Benjo.
“It was discussions with them, and with Jack which helped me to see that it was more than a story about typical diamond thieves,” Carlton said. “It was a much more interesting story about where they came from but also what they’re becoming — which allows you… to paint a portrait of Europe now, a changing Europe and the changing face of organised criminality. Jerome explained that what we need to understand is that organised crime in Europe is much more efficient and much more united than the official political and financial channels. That was one of the starting points for the series.”
Cast and crew were astonished at the level of research carried out by Pierrat. His ongoing work as a journalist takes him regularly into the darkest corners of humanity and TV drama rarely benefits from such depth of knowledge and experience.
“That’s exactly what excited us, Jerome’s deep understanding of criminality these days,” Haut et Court’s Jimmy Desmarais said. “He has a real social insight as to how it works, the structures and its relationship with legal entities and how the two work together. It goes way beyond the image of criminals, guns, fast cars and money.” Pierrat took Jack Thorne into some powerful and sometimes dangerous places during the course of their research:
“In the morning they would see the prime minister of Serbia and in the afternoon the head of the Panthers. And then in France, the head of a police force who has dedicated his life to fighting the Panthers. And then on to the suburbs to see the hierarchy within the drug dealing community.”
Director Johan Renck was more than comfortable with the subject matter. “I am very attracted to dark psychology, so for me I’m like a fish in water with these things. When a piece of work reflects those dark sides it interests me and always has done, my entire life,” he said. “That is pure pleasure to me.”
Renck particularly enjoyed the fragility of the characters. “Many of these characters are both good and bad and they have brilliance and loss mixed together and almost no matter how brilliant you are in governing your own choices, most of us in our life make mistakes over stupid things and the consequences of these things always have a greater effect than if you do something great,” he said. “That is what makes this script interesting to me. Our characters are flawed and make stupid mistakes that spiral into the darkness… that’s what I like.”
But some members of the cast were momentarily taken out of their comfort zone during the course of filming. Morton’s young Naomi was in the military and the part required military training.
“To get me into character physically when we arrived in Montenegro I had to spend some time in the local gym,” Morton said. “As the young Naomi, I’m playing a soldier and I’ve got to be a real soldier — there’s no acting that shape and I’ve got to be able to do all that stuff. The gym was quite rough, and to start with all the guys there, were giving me funny looks. I had to go and be with the boys doing the weights and it took a couple of days before they gave me total respect, once they saw how much I could dead-lift. To be welcomed in a different country and community, it was an amazing feeling — to be the young Naomi in that gym with all the big boys doing their shit.” She added: “I’ve kept up the training now because its just felt so good.”
Film actor Tahar Rahim (top photo) plays maverick French cop Khalil and from the outset the production team agreed he was the only person for the part. “He was one of the first people who was approached and we could not imagine anyone else in the French role,” Benjo said. “It was his first television series and he was extremely cautious about the part. The amazing thing with him was that he would meet regularly with Jerome and Jack to talk about every level of his character.”
“He was born in the suburbs of Marseille and he was kind of a bad seed,” Rahim said. Sent by his father to live with a family in Northern France as a punishment for one of his many wrongdoings, he disappeared for 15 years. “When he returns he works his way into the police force and becomes a commissioner. But what he has is something different from other cops — he’s not exactly crazy but he’s traumatised. It seems that he knows better than other cops and other people how it works in the suburbs. So he wants to do it his own way — the end justifies the means. He’ll use anyone, even his own partners, to get what he needs.”
Rahim also helped out with the multilingual aspects of the production. “He was very involved with us in the adaptation of the French dialogue — making sure we had the right tone and authenticity, and that was a huge help,” Desmarais said.
This and more in the MIPCOM 2015 Preview magazine: read the full digital edition here!
The Last Panthers stars John Hurt, Samantha Morton and Tahar Rahim. It is written by Jack Thorne and directed by Johan Renck. The World Premiere TV Screening of The Last Panthers is on Monday, October 5, in the Grand Auditorium at 18.30. It will include a Q&A with cast and crew, who will afterwards walk the red carpet to the MIPCOM Opening Night Party at the Grand Hyatt Cannes Hotel Martinez.