Six of the Best: Olivier Wotling

Six of the Best: Olivier Wotling

January 8, 2024


The former head of drama at French-German network Arte, who is now a producer at Asacha Media-backed Mintee Studio, picks half-a-dozen shows that represent the best of global drama.

The Actor
Winner of the Series Mania Grand Prix this year, this show was a revelation, following two unemployed actors who offer their services to play parts in real-life situations. Let’s start by saying the show is Iranian, has an incredible 26-part, 52-minute-long format, and takes its mesmerising strength from almost exactly the opposite rules of storytelling that you are used to seeing in most Western series. Fascination and growing tension in each scene come from an incredibly slow pace, very long scenes, unpredictable twists and reactions. You are never sure where the characters are heading or what is on their mind, and yet you are never lost. It is warm, witty and a very clever, indirect and, no doubt, very brave critique of the Iranian situation.

This series has a very typically British (Scottish) flavour for a French viewer. The writing shows a perfect balance between a very pleasant and gripping crime story and an ironic and witty spirit, so you are not sure whether to watch the whole show because you want to know the end of the crime story or just because you love the irony of this human comedy, where all the characters appear to be the opposite of what they first seemed, where each one is both absolutely irritating and very engaging.

I must first of all confess a bias in favour of this show since I commissioned it a few years ago. While I was complaining that French shows were never daring or bold enough, this one dared to play with taboo – a wife and mother of three children pretends she has been diagnosed with breast cancer and enjoys the love from her family and the power this lie gives her over people – and with the viewers’ feelings of uncertainty between uneasiness and laughter. There is a very peculiar and enjoyable atmosphere of strangeness hanging over daily situations and a sharp but loving irony in terms of our common behaviours and hypocrisy.

Bir Başkadir (Ethos)
This eight-part show is a fascinating and thorough study of modern Turkish society, dramatically torn between people of different social, religious and cultural backgrounds. It portrays a rich variety of characters, from a modest cleaning lady from a conservative family on the outskirts of Istanbul, to the more westernised urban intellectuals or upper class. I must highlight the powerful filming of director Berkun Oya. It’s definitely an example of the way dramas can go beyond mere entertainment to dig into complex human and social topics by giving them space and time, just as classic novels used to do.

Esterno Notte
This amazing series, directed by Marco Bellocchio, dramatises the kidnapping and murder of Italian politician Aldo Moro by far-left terrorists known as the Red Brigades in 1978. I like this kind of show – one that’s very challenging to write but brilliant, just like Chernobyl. Viewers may think they know the story, but actually they just know the tragic end. The show explores what led to this point, through mistakes, absurd decisions, cowardice, hypocrisy and compromising one’s principles. It features incredibly strong filming of a world on the verge of chaos and civil war, in a nightmarish atmosphere. But there’s no need to be interested in Italian politics: its strength stands in the human tragedy, a man of justice and good will who is abandoned, betrayed and sentenced to death by the weakness of other men, friends and allies.

Slow Horses
This show centres on ‘a bunch of losers,’ to quote Jackson Lamb (played by Gary Oldman in an absolutely fantastic performance), who you also love and support. There is a wonderful blend of espionage thriller and workplace comedy, of dark humour and humanistic warmth. It reminded me of The Wire, but also of Italian classic comedies – the darker and crueller it is, the more you love the hopeless characters. It is fun and entertaining, and you happen to be moved because it imperceptibly brings you to a beautiful truth: failed, flawed people can together achieve something great and gain value and self-esteem. It is full of desperate stories that give faith and hope. A brilliant tour de force.

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