Series Mania: ‘La Garconne’ Puts Gender-Bender Spin on Period Crime Drama

Produced by Paris-based outfit Mother Productions and sold internationally by eOne, the six-part limited series “La Garçonne” offers a playful, gender-bending spin on the period potboiler. Set during the roar of the early 1920s, the show follows a one-time war medic forced to take on not one, but two new identities after she witnesses a murder performed by a pair of government officials.

The series, which world premiered in Series Mania’s French Competition, begins with a rush of activity. Within 15 minutes, protagonist Louise Kerlac (Laura Smet, “The Guardians”) loses the hard-won freedoms she gained during the First World War, witnesses two government goons murdering a family friend, and for her trouble, gets framed for the murder.

When her shell-shocked brother Antoine (Tom Hygreck) chooses to change his name and reinvent himself as an artist, Louise cuts her hair, binds her chest, and assumes his identity – as well as the spot reserved for him on the Paris police force.

“The idea of the show is about being a free woman, but also being a free man,” says producer Harold Valentin of Mother Productions.

“The sister wants to become a cop, only France did not allow woman police officers until 1968, and the brother wishes to be a painter, even though his father expected him to join the force. So it’s about this idea of freedom – men and women rejecting the roles they were assigned.”

“Women had been active in the war, and had taken over jobs that were otherwise reserved for the men. Of course, after the war they didn’t want to give those freedoms back,” adds show creator Dominique Lancelot.

Taking to her new work with zeal, Louise soon begins investigating a murder set in Paris’ bohemian underground – and assumes an additional identity as the carefree flapper Giselle in order to infiltrate the city’s cabarets and jazz bars. (Indeed, the series’ title, “La Garçonne,” is a reference to the French name for the famous flapper haircut that plays on the show’s gender-bending premise).

“The detective aspect allowed us to explore every strata of this society, to explore many different aspects of Parisian life of that era,” Lancelot explains. “We were interested in the post-war social scene. There was this incredible modernity, a kind of lust for life. Paris was really the center of the artistic and creative world then, and we wanted to find a central mystery that would allow us to incorporate all of that.”

Lending the show a rather modern touch, Louise assumes two different kinds of drag, spending her days blending into the macho boy’s club that is the police force and her nights sipping champagne in pearls with style icons like Kiki of Montparnasse and Coco Chanel.

“Women know what it’s like to [play with gender signifiers],” says Lancelot. “We’ve been doing that since we were kids. Louise embodies this fantasy of playing dress-up as both a gruff man and a girly girl… By necessity, she needs to not only disguise herself as a man, but also as a different kind of woman.”

As they developed the series – which casts period-specific luminaries like Coco Chanel, Amedeo Modigliani and Man Ray into supporting roles – the producers drew from Ernest Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast” in order to depict Lost Generation Paris.

“This is a festive world, a world that wants to party while overlooking the problems festering within it,” says producer Aurélien Larger. “It was the beginning of the modern age. What went on in the early 1920s, and what we see today echo with one another. For us, it reflected many things about Europe today – this idea of women redefining how they were treated set against a backdrop of political and social upheaval.”

Though their series seeks to explore those ideas via a light and silken spin on a comforting genre, the show’s creative team hopes viewers key into those echoes with the current day.

“When you see this person fighting for her place in society, you can make a lot of links to the world of today,” Lancelot says. “When we started working on the series, two elements drew us in: Women’s shifting role in society and the rise of populism. We’re still living that today.”

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