If you’ve been avoiding The Bureau because you thought it might be about a writing desk with an angled top, go back, apologise to yourself, and start watching immediately.
The Bureau, or Le Bureau des Légendes is a French espionage drama which is so good that the solemn and intimidating daily Le Figaro proclaimed season two as “the best ever made in France.”
Set in the DGSE, the French MI6, a hierarchy of unflappable handlers keeps watch on their deep cover agents, here going about their mysterious business in deadly locations such as Syria, Algeria and Iran.
Then one of their people comes back to France, makes one inappropriate decision and tiens! – undercover chaos.
(Not that you’d ever know it from the expressionlessness of those involved. If you need your head of section to bang the table in frustration you’re in the wrong department.)
Here, then are your reasons for purchase:
- It is based on authentic spy experience – not Hollywood’s hysterical imaginings of same – and so emphasises skills such as the piecing together of fragments of information or maintaining a cover story under the subtlest of pressure. By comparison, massive jerkhole James Bond is as discreet and understated as Kevin Bacon in Footloose.
- The ingenuity of the agents being tested is mesmerising. In season 2, the elegance with which one agent entraps another is such that his boss says he’s going to use it as a case study for trainees, surely the first time in the history of the world anything recorded for training purposes has actually been of use.
- Although there is abundant technology, Le Bureau doesn’t rely on magic gadgets or computer power alone to solve their headaches. Former Prime Minister David Cameron’s comment “There is hardly a crime drama where a crime is solved without using the data of a mobile communications device” may be a) true and b) the only enduring remark of his time in office, but here the telecommunications are worthless without the intuition of the cast. Banal conversations to you the viewer are riddled with code to the experienced ear.
- At no point do the representatives of good and evil meet to resolve things with a fight. This may be compulsory in anything shown in a cinema, but that is not the way of the French spook elite. They prefer more efficient ways that draw less attention to themselves, and don’t require absurd weaponry and associated posturing.
- They don’t have to wait for the next baroque murder to come along before they can get going again. This department never sleeps, constantly monitoring the power tilts in the unstable nations of the day (of which no shortage) to make sure France never gets its fingers trapped.
- The casting is superb. Fans of French cop masterpiece The Spiral love it for its hypnotic carnival of grotesques and this is an equally compelling lineup. They are flawed and fragile individuals resisting fiendish pressure with their wit and barely perceptible facial expressions, rather than a mountain of ammunition.
- Permanent sang froid. The pressure may be brutal, but even at moments of relief they resist the temptation to high five everyone in the room, chest bump, shout “Yeah, baby” like Austin Powers or other varieties of “Aren’t I great?” found frequently in the genre. The urge to stand and applaud on their behalf is immense.
- No end of treachery. Everyone’s at it.
- A refreshing shortage of cliché. As the London Review of Books blog says: “The scenes in Algiers are filmed without sensationalism – or, for that matter, the muzak of muezzins and Allahu Akbars that accompany most American, British and Israeli series whenever the camera shifts from the Western metropole to the so-called Muslim world.”
- You know it’s an all-time great because reaching the end will leave a hole in your life so massive that only thing you can imagine ever filling it is a Season 4.
The Bureau is available on Amazon Prime and DVD.