Imagine an up-to-date Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy crossed with a French romance… and you’ll get something approaching the superior French spy drama that is The Bureau. Seeing the modern tricks of spies is fascinating in its own right, and then you get international politics and a love story thrown in for good measure. It’s engaging and compelling on a number of counts – there’s something for everyone really.
Our protagonist (let’s call him Paul, although he has loads of different names, and we’re never quite sure which is the real one) has just returned to Paris from a successful 5-year mission in the Middle East (Syria, Jordan and Algiers). He has to break up with his Syrian girlfriend (Nadia) while still in character as a French teacher before coming home. He feels bad about it, particularly cos Nadia is smart and has a cat-walk model’s body (is she a spy for the other side, a ‘honey trap’?). A week after dumping her, feeling guilty and alone, he phones her… only to find out (with delight and horror) that she’s in Paris!!! Apparently, she’s on a course related to her work. Against all protocol, Paul meets up with Nadia in secret, still maintaining his cover as a French teacher. He has to lie to his colleagues, and the lies have to get bigger and bigger. And, of course, he has to lie to Nadia, cos she doesn’t know he’s a spy for the DGSE (the French CIA, sort of thing). Paul can’t trust anyone. He can hardly trust himself. He’s bound to make a slip, it’s so tricky juggling his different identities every day. Then Nadia’s Syrian entourage start to get suspicious of Paul, and enlist Russian operatives to investigate.
The pressure and close-calls become unbearable. But what can Paul do?
It’s an exciting and entirely tense affair throughout. Gripping. And it’s not just done for the thrills. Being French, of course, the series indulges in philosophical ruminations about identity, trust, reality and sanity. Don’t let it worry you (English ninnies inevitably get put off by all things philosophical), cos you can ignore the philosophical bits and go get a cup of tea.
The series has a dud episode or two (episode 8 is just a rehash of 7 really), but it is entirely worth persevering with. The culmination of it all is unexpected but credible. And means you’ll be keen for the next series. 8.5 out of 10. So there. (By the way, I’m half-French, but you don’t need to be to enjoy said proceedings.)