Netflix’s new drama series Class Act is a fictionalized take on the life of controversial French businessman Bernard Tapie. Beginning from a middle-class household, Tapie went on to own businesses like Wonder Tires, Adidas, and then the Olympique Marseille football club. But despite so many accomplishments, Tapie’s name is still remembered because of the scandals and controversies that he was part of, and the Netflix show now presents the story of his rise and fall. With seven episodes, each around an hour long, Class Act combines fact and fiction as it adds a layer of personal and family life for the man, which is claimed to be almost entirely made up.
In his early adult life, Bernard Tapie wanted to be a professional singer and tour the world, but this dream soon shattered, and he was brought back to the world of struggle and grind. But from a relatively young age, the man was determined to make it big in life, claiming to reach the very top of society. After a string of failed business endeavors, Tapie altered his ways according to the changing times. Realizing that acquiring failing businesses for cheap was the new profitable thing to do, he started to buy off such struggling businesses. A few such successes later, the man even found himself in the realm of politics, along with more wins in his original profession. Managing to buy and own the international sportswear brand Adidas, Tapie also went on to buy the illustrious Olympique Marseille football club. It was under his leadership, in 1993, that Marseille became the first French club to win the Champions League trophy, and in fact, it still remains the only club from France to have done so.
However, despite all these remarkable and historic achievements, Bernard Tapie had to face many unwanted situations, including difficult deals, pressure from the workers union, and eventually scandals as well. Because of his extremely ambitious nature and a frequent habit of taking unconventional, risky, but highly rewarding decisions, the man found himself amidst a number of controversies almost throughout his career. Class Act essentially enacts some of these decisions and scandals, as we see Tapie rise from the stature of nobody to aiming to run for the country’s presidency. We are taken through ludicrous moments, like when the man arranged a false meeting with the fake Emir of Dubai, to the thick of the ultimate scandal that brought him down, when Tapie was suspected of bribery and match-fixing.
Despite being a fairly entertaining series, Class Act is surely not the most reliable source to learn about the exact history of the French businessman. The show reserves a big chunk of itself for the familial life of Tapie, which is sometimes as troubled and complicated as his professional career. However, most of these moments are actually dramatized or entirely fictitious, and they have been added only to add color to the characters. It would be fair to say that this addition does a fairly decent job, for we do get an idea of how Tapie as an individual was. His life and bond with his wife Michelle, his daughter Stephanie, and later on, his lover Dominique are well presented. It is the last of the three, Dominique, that we see the most of, since the woman was also a part of Bernard’s business plans and was also the one to understand him the most. The gradual development of these two characters is also fairly well done.
However, it is also to be admitted that the plot is the strongest aspect of the series, and so almost all the effort is put into the narrative itself. It is ultimately the interesting story and the many changes in the protagonist’s life that grab most of the attention. In comparison, the character developments or the changes in bonds seem less powerful and less interesting. In that case, it can also be argued that these scenes with the family, or Bernard’s personal life, could have been reduced in duration since they really do not do too much for the show overall. It is also worth mentioning in this regard that the existing members of the Tapie family have raised objections against the Netflix drama because of these fictionalized and heavily dramatized moments.
I found a distinct difference in terms of tone in the first and latter halves of the series while watching it. While the latter half covers more interesting events, like Marseille’s victory in the Champions League and the subsequent match-fixing scandal investigations, it somehow lacks the charm of the first half. In contrast, the initial episodes mostly establish the character of Tapie for us, and that has its exciting appeal as we see the character rise to success. These two elements, unfortunately, do not mix, and this takes away from the fun of the series to some extent. Along with this, a slight excess focus on the man’s personal life also interferes with the overall pace, especially since these moments do not really have too much effect.
Since the plot is centered around the 1970s–90s, Class Act does a good job presenting the time and the appearance of France at the time. It also keeps some of the scenes in the old-TV aesthetic in order to give it a more journalistic, and therefore real, appeal. At the very end, the show presents a number of news clips of the real Bernard Tapie as well. In terms of the acting performances, all have done an adequate job, with nobody in particular sticking out from the others. Laurent Lafitte as Bernard Tapie and Josephine Japy as Dominique Tapie obviously appear the most throughout the series and have been mostly convincing throughout. There is nothing spectacular or noteworthy with respect to the filmmaking either, as the focus is only to tell a story, and how it is done is not that important. Overall, Class Act can be given a watch and will be more enjoyable to French viewers who have lived the times shown, but there is not anything significant to make it a memorable experience.