Meet Spiral's feminist anti-hero

'Caroline Proust screeches up to a Paris cafe terrace on her bike in a mini-dress and red leather jacket, beaming a lipsticked smile. It's a far cry from her TV character, police captain Laure Berthaud: the downtrodden detective who is France's least groomed sex symbol. With her unwashed hair, no makeup, T-shirt worn three days in a row and seemingly perpetual PMT, Berthaud has become one of the most prized TV pin-ups in a nation that likes its beauty barefaced.

Spiral – or Engrenages — is France’s answer to The Wire. Paris’s first “hyper-realist” TV show, its gritty take on the justice system has stunned executives by becoming the biggest- selling French TV show ever.

Proust loves the fact that Spiral, now in its third series, has a cult following in the UK. In France, the show’s hit status is a question of national pride. Quite simply, Spiral saved French TV. It sent a rocket up the backside of the embarrassing tradition of appallingly clunky cop series. With Spiral, Canal Plus, the subscriber channel, decided to turn itself into a kind of French HBO. It wanted addictive drama with faultless realism. The rules were simple: plotlines came from real-life cases, there was little sex, few scenes on the telephone, shots would not be just limited to the point of view of the hero (a staple in bad French drama) and nothing sentimental. Most important, no character would be all good or all bad.’

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