Class Act Season 1 Review – Captivating Biographical Drama

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: September 13, 2023 (Last updated: May 4, 2024)
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Class Act Season 1 Review
Class Act Season 1 (Credit - Netflix)
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Summary

Class Act proves a mostly engaging summary of Bernard Tapie’s life, though sometimes succumbs to flat characterisation and circuitous structuring.

Full disclosure: I knew nothing about Bernard Tapie, the French businessman, and politician about whom the Netflix limited series Class Act – otherwise known, somewhat narcissistically, as simply Tapie – revolves.

I raise this because it’s probably an important detail in how you perceive the seven-part story. I didn’t know anything, and thus, the show not only had to recount Tapie’s rise and fall but also convince me I should be interested. For the most part, it did that, but mileage will no doubt vary for other newcomers.

For those not in the know, Bernard Tapie was, among some other things, a failed singer turned businessman and politician. He’s played vigorously by Laurent Lafitte here, in a longwinded docuseries format that charts some of his schemes, successes, and ultimately failures.

Tapie has the appeal of a classic any-means-necessary grifter type, someone whose ambition exceeds his ability but is backed by a relentless drive. From musician to electronics store owner and beyond, Tapie believes, fully, he is destined for greater things.

Class Act charts his process of trying to achieve those greater things, as well as the toll that the pursuit of them takes on Tapie and his family. It’s a classic tale in many ways of how careerism and unchecked ambition can just as easily lead to personal success as they can utter ruin.

This will-he-won’t-he quality is the show’s most essential form of drama, but the secondary concern is what the cost will be even if he does.

It is, at least, easy to buy into the idea of trying to better oneself. Tapie is fundamentally someone who just wants more, as most of us do, and for a show built almost entirely around one central figure, it’s helpful for the protagonist to have that kind of easy appeal.

And if Lafitte’s performance was to be defined by a single word, it’d probably be that one – appeal. He’s the underdog because of his lack of success and the barriers erected in front of even moderately driven lower-class French people, but he’s also deeply flawed.

With its strong performances from both the lead and supporting cast, a highly compelling central figure, and a basis in truth that is sometimes more incredulous than the embellishments, Class Act is a captivating biographical drama series about a compelling, larger-than-life figure.

It’s also a tad overlong, sometimes overstates Tapie’s fundamental allure, especially for those unfamiliar with his story, and tends to relax into familiar beats across the full runtime.

Fans of biographical dramas or – perhaps especially – those familiar with Bernard Tapie ought to consider this can’t-miss viewing in some respects, but a recommendation can’t come without caveats.

An overlong runtime and occasionally repetitive structure do threaten to flatten some of Tapie’s more interesting contours, and he himself remains staunchly unchanged throughout much of the story.

Is Class Act a true story?

The official synopsis for the series says that the series “traces the romantic destiny of an extraordinary character, Bernard Tapie, one of the most iconic and controversial French public figures.” The show does state it is a fictional version of Tapie’s life, but no names have been changed to protect their identities. The events depicted in the show are based on publicly known facts. However, stories surrounding his private life have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes.

While the show is based on real people and real events, its creators, Tristan Séguéla and Olivier Demangel, have made sure audiences are aware that it is fictional.

There is a statement at the beginning of each episode that states: “This series is loosely based on a true story. The hero’s journey is based on facts known to the public. The role played by his entourage, and Dominique, their private lives, and the dialogue are fictional.”

Bernard Tapie is a real person, and before he died in 2021, Tapie revealed he had not agreed to the show being made, which does make this show feel a little sketchy. Tapie’s widow, Dominique, has told French journalists that she deplores the show and told RTL: “The person who made this series came to see Bernard, and he told him ‘No if someone is going to tell my story, it will be my son Laurent.’ And there you have it… No comment.” So, while the series is based on real people, those real people feel as though the wrong story is being told.

Other characters in the series, such as Jean-Baptiste Tapie and Raymonde Tapie, are based on Berard Tapie’s parents, who have the same name. Characters outside of the family seem to have been created for dramatic purposes. 


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