Production company behind BBC's "steamy" Versailles plans UK expansion

 
William Turvill
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The Versailles series began broadcasting on BBC Two from 1 June

If you were you among those outraged by the BBC Two series Versailles – described by one Mail Online report as “the steamiest series on television” – you might want to stop reading.

Newen, the French production company behind the series, is in talks with the BBC, ITV and Netflix over programming – and is seeking to expand its operations into the UK with a London office.

“The difference is, we’re expanding across Europe, while others don’t want to be part of Europe,” Newen chief executive Fabrice Larue tells City A.M. shortly after the Brexit vote.

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“I am here to continue the development of Newen Network, either by opening a new office to increase our business activities, or by finding new partners, or by acquisition.”

Newen, which was founded in 2008 and claims an annual revenue of around €250m (£214m), already has a presence in countries such as Canada, Spain and Germany, and is considering moves into other Northern European countries as well as Italy.

Larue wants to use London as not only a base to grow its programming through the UK, but also the US.

“I think European and French television programmes are now at a higher level and compare favourably with series from the US and across the world,” says Larue.

As well as wanting to expand internationally, Larue makes clear that a French production company needs to do so in order to survive and thrive.

Versailles is said to be the most expensive French television series ever made, costing €30m (£25.5m) to produce. Some €11m was funded by Canal in France, and Newen had to secure the remainder of the funding from abroad. It has been sold in 135 different countries.

“So rather than in the US, where series are made and if they can sell them overseas then it’s a bonus, for us we absolutely need to be able to sell major productions overseas – just selling in France doesn’t provide enough revenue for a big-budget production,” says Larue.

“We are more and more pushed down the route of thinking about the international market and making sure the programmes we create are suitable for overseas markets.”

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Undoubtedly, Versailles has caused a stir in the UK. One Conservative MP – fond of grasping opportunities to criticise the BBC – said of the series: “There are channels where, if you wish to view this sort of material, you would have to pay for it.”

Newen appears to be enjoying it – this quote features on a briefing document provided to City A.M. – but is keen to emphasise that it, and French TV in general, can provide more.

“Not all French television programmes are as raunchy and daring as Versailles,” says Larue. “Like many other popular TV programmes, such as House of Cards, it does have elements of intrigue, bloodshed and sex.”

Filming on the next season is already under way – but Tory MPs and outraged Mail Online readers can relax.

“The first season particularly is raunchy and daring because it is setting the scene and establishing the characters,” says Larue. “The second series is more about intrigue.”

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