UNDER LAW AND GRACE – TV series review – We Are Movie Geeks


UNDER LAW AND GRACE – TV series review

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There have been numerous TV crime series from Europe pairing cops and clergy in the sleuthing. England’s “Father Brown” is among the best known and longest running. Italy has given us “Don Matteo,” with the superb Terence Stamp as a savvy priest. The French offering “Under Law and Grace” (“Priere D’Enquentere”) is a series of four 90-minute movies pairing police captain Elli (Sabrina Ouazani) and her assistant Franck (Jerome Robart) with novitiate monk Clement (Mathieu Spinosi) for murders with varying degrees of religious involvement. While most of these programs have been relatively light in tone, this quartet plays more as straight dramas.

The requisite initial mismatch of personalities is apparent from the get-go, as Elli, whose parents were Muslim and Jewish by birth but atheists in practice, and Franck (who is going through a messy divorce), head to a monastery. A monk was murdered, and a valuable bible was stolen. Clement has spent his entire 33 years there, having been dropped off as an infant and adopted by the caretaker, with the deceased as his mentor. Clement has studied voraciously, getting three college degrees without leaving the cloistered premises. True to form, Elli resents his involvement in the detecting until she grudgingly grows to appreciate his value. Clement gets to actually explore the outside world he’s only known through books.

Three of the four episodes involve deaths in religious settings, one in academia. For the second case, Clement has been hired by the department as a criminal psychology consultant, due to his contributions in solving the first. He does this with the blessing of his order, viewing it as part of his preparation for being ordained. For most, time in the monastery is the test period of suitability and desirability of an ascetic lifestyle. Since Clement has already spent his whole life there, experiencing the secular realm is way to an informed choice of whether he wants to commit – much like Rumspringa for Amish teens.

The four murders arise from suitably complex scenarios, with all the dangled motives and suspects needed to sustain suspense to the end. Compared to other shows, this one has a higher percentage of time spent on personal dramas and conflicts in relation to the primary task of discovering whodunnit. Franck is distracted by his romantic life. Elli has been raising her three younger sisters since their parents died years before, with one of the siblings being a particular pain in the derriere. Home-front clashes and pressures on top of the caseload make her angry most of the time, snapping impatiently at just about everyone. That’s a sharp contrast with Clement, whose beatific pleasantness and almost childlike curiosity and willingness to be of service never seem to flag. Yet beneath the grousing, Elli reveals solid love for those in her circle and dedication to her duties, to remain a protagonist we root for.

Those who shun blood and gore can relax here. None of the murders occur on-camera, and views of the victims are minimized. No nudity, either. It’s tamer than most domestic prime-time network fare in all respects. The tales should definitely be watched in order due to progression in relationships that carry over. This may not be ideal for a binge. Elli’s baseline surliness might wear thin on prolonged exposure but play better with some spacing. Clement’s character will provide enjoyment regardless of the time factor.

These productions aired from 2020-22. Though each crime is wrapped up in its episode, a few characters’ personal issues remain open, dangling a bit of grist for a fifth. Here’s hoping they decide to make it.

“Under Law and Grace” (“Priere D’Enquentere”), mostly in French with English subtitles, streams on MHz Choice starting on May 30.

RATING: 2.5 out of 4 stars

A scene from the French TV series “Under Law and Grace.” Photo credit: Fabien Malot – Mother Production. Courtesy of MHz Choice. © Cécile MELLA / FTV / MOTHER PRODUCTIONS