Mur­der on the Riviera

What U2’s for­mer man­ager Paul McGuin­ness did next: the glam­orous and deca­dent world of his sexy new Sky thriller star­ring su­pery­achts, bil­lion­aires...and Ju­lia Stiles

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FRONT PAGE -

When Paul McGuin­ness, the so-called ‘fifth mem­ber of U2’ walked away from man­ag­ing the band in 2013 after 35 years of un­wa­ver­ing ser­vice, he did so with a fortune es­ti­mated at €120 mil­lion. Re­tir­ing to a sump­tu­ous villa at Eze-sur-Mer on the French Riviera, McGuin­ness found him­self with a lot of time on his hands. After a few months of idle­ness, he de­cided he wanted to write a story. He didn’t have to look too far for ma­te­rial.

‘The Riviera is known for its beauty,’ he says. ‘One of the most beau­ti­ful things is the light, the very thing that drew artists like Matisse and Pi­casso to the area. But it’s equally fa­mous for its darker cor­ners. Som­er­set Maugham de­scribed it as “a sunny place for shady peo­ple”. That’s never changed. Wher­ever I went along the Côte d’Azur, there was al­ways some­thing a lit­tle shady in the air – Rus­sian oli­garchs, art crime, money laun­der­ing... it’s part of ev­ery­day life in this part of the world.’

Slowly, it dawned on him that the bare bones of his story were star­ing him in the face. And so he started sketch­ing the out­line of a drama about ‘rich peo­ple do­ing ter­ri­ble things’.

These were the birth pangs of Riviera, Sky’s highly am­bi­tious ten-part thriller that McGuin­ness de­vel­oped with two old pals, Os­car-win­ning di­rec­tor Neil Jor­dan (The Cry­ing Game) and Booker Prize-win­ning author John Banville (The Sea). A whop­ping €46 mil­lion bud­get, huge for a tele­vi­sion se­ries, means that the project has at­tracted a stel­lar cast in­clud­ing Ju­lia Stiles, Ja­son Bourne’s side­kick in the block­buster movies, as glam­orous lead Ge­orgina Clios, Game Of Thrones star Iwan Rheon and theatre/tele­vi­sion vet­eran Adrian Lester, best known for his roles in Hus­tle and Mer­lin. Lester also di­rects two episodes of the se­ries.

It is a sign of TV’s el­e­vated sta­tus that it has at­tracted Hol­ly­wood stars. ‘When I first started out you were ei­ther a movie ac­tress or a tele­vi­sion ac­tress,’ Stiles says. ‘That’s all changed now. Movies have got smaller and tele­vi­sion has got big­ger. Riviera is big in all re­spects. Too big and too juicy to turn down.’

The se­ries starts with a bang, ramps up the pace and barely pauses for breath un­til the fi­nal high-ten­sion twist-’n’-re­veal ten hours later.

Rev­el­ling in the Riviera’s chic bou­tiques, su­pery­achts and dizzy­ing art auc­tions, Ge­orgina Clios’s world is thrown into chaos and dan­ger when her bil­lion­aire hus­band is killed by an ex­plo­sion aboard the yacht of a Rus­sian oli­garch and arms dealer. In the wake of his death, Ge­orgina learns that she has to be ruth­less in or­der to pro­tect the rest of the Clios fam­ily from their en­e­mies – and from each other.

Over the course of ten episodes, the se­ries lifts the lid on the deca­dent life­styles en­joyed by real-life denizens of the Riviera, where six-fig­ure sums are spent on lav­ish par­ties; swim­ming pools are filled with €250 bot­tles of Cristal cham­pagne; local crime lords use priceless art to buy arms and drugs; and art forg­eries are traded like play­ground foot­ball stick­ers. Hun­dreds of beau­ti­ful ex­tras were drafted in for one eye-pop­ping orgy scene that took place on a su­pery­acht.

Much of the ac­tion takes place in the stun­ning €12 mil­lion Re­nais­sance-style cas­tle in Grasse be­ing used as the Clios fam­ily home. Com­plete with tur­rets, or­nate foun­tains and stat­ues, two he­li­pads and three swim­ming pools, the Château Diter is the wed­ding venue of choice for oli­garchs with money to burn and party venue of choice for pop stars and movie stars who like to party loudly but dis­creetly.

On the morn­ing of TV Week’s ar­rival, Iwan Rheon is de­scrib­ing his shock at en­coun­ter­ing the French Riviera for the first time. ‘It’s a long way from sleepy Car­marthen where I was born,’ he says. ‘When I first ar­rived here for film­ing, I didn’t want to touch any­thing be­cause it all looked so ex­pen­sive.’

For Rheon, the role of laid-back Adam Clios could not be fur­ther re­moved from the part of sadis­tic Ram­say Bolton in Game Of Thrones that trans­formed him from re­spected ac­tor to global sen­sa­tion. Ram­say pro­vided GoT with some of its most shock­ing scenes, in­clud­ing the bru­tal wed­ding-night rape of Sansa Stark. For a time, Rheon was known as ‘the most hated man on TV’.

‘For Ram­say Bolton I imag­ined a cross be­tween Heath Ledger as Bat­man, Den­nis the Men­ace and Liam Gal­lagher,’ he says. ‘Adam

‘Making TV drama is a dif­fer­ent thrill from see­ing Bono and the boys up on stage. But it’s a thrill nev­er­the­less’

Clios takes all this lux­ury from fancy yachts to ridicu­lously ex­pen­sive restau­rants for granted. He’s com­pletely at home in it in a way that I never could be.’

Ju­lia Stiles is no stranger to rub­bing shoul­ders with the fab­u­lously wealthy in Hol­ly­wood cir­cles but, as she ad­mits, the sheer scale of wealth on the French Riviera took her by sur­prise.

‘It’s the os­ten­ta­tious na­ture of the wealth that’s so at­ten­tion-grab­bing. In most parts of Amer­ica, open dis­plays of wealth are con­sid­ered gauche and vul­gar. We choose to be more dis­creet about it. On the Côte d’Azur, self­im­age and sta­tus are wrapped up in how you dis­play your wealth, whether it’s how women dress or the size of a guy’s yacht.

‘I don’t like ac­cu­mu­lat­ing stuff for the sake of it. I’d rather spend money on ex­pe­ri­ences, whether it’s a nice meal or a hol­i­day. I do share Ge­orgina’s love of art but there are no Pi­cas­sos hang­ing in my hall­way. I col­lect stuff that is sen­ti­men­tal or mean­ing­ful to me, like a piece of graf­fiti art I bought from the set of the last Bourne movie.’

In 1982, the writer Graham Greene pro­voked out­rage when, as part of his cam­paign against or­gan­ised crime and po­lice cor­rup­tion in the area, he de­nounced the French Riviera as, ‘a haven of sleaze’.

‘The area is drenched in in­trigue,’ says Stiles. ‘Wher­ever you go and who­ever you meet, there seems to be a story ready to un­fold. Dur­ing the shoot, we’d go up and down the coast in a boat and hear tales about the yachts and their own­ers. There’s the Pelorus, said to have been given to Ro­man Abramovich’s wife Irina in their di­vorce set­tle­ment. Then there’s the lux­ury mo­tor yacht Eclipse, also owned by Abramovich, who ap­par­ently em­ploys divers to check for bombs un­der­neath.

‘Noth­ing is straight­for­ward here. And the very rich seem to be­lieve that their wealth pro­tects them from the slings and ar­rows of life’s out­ra­geous fortune. But the wealth they’ve ac­cu­mu­lated doesn’t make them happy or more loved. It doesn’t make them feel more se­cure or less neu­rotic.’

The se­ries nearly didn’t get made at all. On July 14, 2016, just days be­fore film­ing was due to com­mence, a 19-ton truck was driven into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice; 86 peo­ple died and 434 were in­jured.

‘Pro­duc­tion wob­bled for a bit,’ says Adrian Lester. ‘Ev­ery­one was ask­ing, “Is it on? Is it off?” We are shoot­ing a drama where peo­ple lose their lives in the city where that at­tack took place. But the govern­ing body of this re­gion didn’t want Nice to be re­mem­bered just for that aw­ful tragedy. They bent over back­wards to help us.’

Aside from those early con­cerns, the shoot has been a smooth one with the three main stars (Stiles, Rheon and Lester) bond­ing over a mu­tual love of mu­sic. Stiles has been tak­ing mu­sic lessons and never trav­els with­out her ‘baby’ banjo. Lester is an en­thu­si­as­tic gui­tarist; Rheon was lead singer of rock band The Con­vic­tions. ‘The three of us would be jam­ming un­til 7am at a mid-shoot party,’ says Stiles.

As for Paul McGuin­ness, he’s left mar­vel­ling that an idea he scrib­bled on the back of an en­ve­lope 18 months ago has made it to the small screen.

‘It’s like rock ’n’ roll but dif­fer­ent,’ he says. ‘The buzz of pro­duc­ing a tele­vi­sion drama is not the same as the buzz I used to get watch­ing U2 play to mas­sive au­di­ences ev­ery night. The logic of a rock ’n’ roll tour is that ev­ery­thing that hap­pens dur­ing the day is re­solved by the per­for­mance. When the show is fin­ished you move on. It’s vis­ceral and in­stantly sat­is­fy­ing. Making tele­vi­sion drama is a much slower burn. A dif­fer­ent thrill from see­ing Bono and the boys up on stage. But a thrill nev­er­the­less.’

All episodes of ‘Riviera’ will be avail­able from June 15 on Sky At­lantic. Sky Q cus­tomers will also be able to watch ‘Riviera’ in Ul­tra HD.

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