With The Tunnel, Fortitude and, currently, You, Me and the Apocalypse, lately Sky has been loudly forging ahead with plans to establish itself as the master of globe-spanning prestige dramas. Its latest, the hugely ambitious The Last Panthers, is yet another triumph, drawing together a multinational cast and a story that roams across Europe’s borders into a dark, brooding heist thriller that’s executed with artful precision.
David Bowie’s ethereal theme tune instantly sets the mood. A bleak, haunting instrumental, Blackstar perfectly embodies the series itself as a trio of tragic characters are slowly dragged into the continent’s murky criminal underworld.
Based on real events inspired by the Pink Panthers gang, the action kicks off with a taut, mesmerizing diamond heist that bears a striking resemblance to the work of the notorious jewel thieves. A crew of white overall-clad crooks raid a Marseille jewelers, dousing the manager in pink paint to extract the safe’s combination and making a break for it before the cops have even had time to drop their morning croissants and coffee.
Of course, this being a gritty crime drama, the plan doesn’t come off without a hitch as a young girl is accidentally gunned down by a fleeing Panther. The girl’s death acts as a trigger that pulls our main characters together. As the desperate criminals struggle to flog their newly-hot diamonds, a fragile detective begins to pick up their trail and a troubled loss adjuster is brought in to retrieve her client’s stolen goods whatever the cost.
The story unspools marvelously, gradually progressing the investigation with some shocking developments that will catch you off guard and testing your sympathies by unraveling the characters’ pasts to reveal the terrible circumstances that have dragged them into this miserable situation.
Writer Jack Thorne hasn’t had much success with his solo TV projects (Cast Offs, The Fades and Glue all failed to secure a second series), but the talented scribe looks to have finally bucked that trend here. Thorne has a superb grip on his story, balancing the crisscrossing plot threads and country hopping action (the first episode alone takes in France, Serbia and the Balkans) whilst building a sickening sense of dread that refuses to drop for even a second.
The show’s impressive cast of European actors all deliver layered, emotionally absorbing performances. Samantha Morton plays the head of the insurance team, Naomi, a tough woman haunted by flashbacks to a military conflict in the Balkans; Tahar Ramin is Khalil, the police officer in charge of the investigation who is plagued by nightmares; and Goran Bogdan is Milan, the leader of the Panthers’ who returns to a life a crime to raise the money for his brother’s heart operation.
Naomi, Khalil and Milan all share the traits of being flawed, damaged and recklessly determined, and Thorne’s gradual exposing of their weaknesses means you’ll find yourself rooting for all of them regardless of what side of the law they are on – just one of the tricky moral dilemmas The Last Panthers loves to throw up.
Director Johan Renck (Breaking Bad) paints a grim picture of life as a jewel thief, giving the show a Nordic noir vibe with plenty of overcast skies and dilapidated interiors. This Scandi feeling extends to story’s languid pacing. Progress is undeniably slow as we explore everyone’s past lives, but Renck keeps us gripped throughout by deftly stretching the tension – the scene where Milan tries to negotiate with some dangerous thugs is simply masterful.
When the heightened suspense finally snaps it results in a breathless climax that unfolds in explosive fashion as Naomi and Milan’s paths inevitably collide. With events left on such an intriguing note, you’re almost guaranteed to be hooked and desperate for the next episode to arrive.
Click here to watch a trailer for The Last Panthers