REVIEW: Netflix’s Sophie Toscan du Plantier series is the most insightful documentary yet
24th June 2021
When Making A Murderer landed on Netflix, the world erupted. It was all anyone could talk about and people subscribed to the streaming service just to binge-watch the series.© Provided by Evoke.ie
Since then, Netflix has been trying to recreate that success with true crime documentary after true crime documentary, with varying success. The streamer has gone around the world to find new stories to tell, so it was inevitable that it would eventually end up in Ireland.
To the world, we’re a twee little country. What could possibly happen in such an idyllic place to warrant a Netflix true crime documentary? 25 years ago, in 1996, that fantastical mask slipped when Sophie Toscan du Plantier was brutally murdered at her holiday home in West Cork.
The French woman was alone just days before Christmas when she was attacked. She fled her cottage in a remote area of Cork, followed by an unknown assailant.© Provided by Evoke.ie Sophie Toscan du Plantier, a French film producer who was beaten to death outside her holiday home near Toormore, Skibbereen, County Cork, Ireland. Pic: PA
When she was found, she had sustained 50 separate injuries and was beaten almost beyond recognition. It was a murder that shook the country and a tale that inspired a podcast, two documentaries and an upcoming drama series. It’s still whispered about today as we despair, ‘Things like that just don’t happen around here.’
The truly tragic case is unfortunately perfect for the Netflix doc treatment — a beautiful French woman, married to a celebrated film producer, who was isolated in the rolling hills of West Cork when she was attacked and murdered by an unknown figure.
Hence, Sophie: A Murder in West Cork was born which centres around the beautifully tragic Sophie as the main character, beloved by her family and friends. If Netflix is to be believed, then she was also a vital member of society in Cork.
They want to pull at your heartstrings and make sure that you want to continue watching well into the wee hours of the morning. The documentary teeters on being emotional and being ludicrous.
In the very first episode, Netflix alludes to the supernatural. It is set in Ireland after all, of course, there may be some involvement by the Little Folk. It would have an American watcher on the edge of their seat while us Irish folk simply roll our eyes.
The documentary claims that just hours before her death, Sophie saw a mysterious white woman who is said to haunt an abandoned ruin nearby her home. It’s believed that those who see her will meet their grisly end, in other words, a Banshee.© Provided by Evoke.ie Sophie Toscan Du Plantier Pic: Rex
As with any documentary made by the streaming service, Sophie: A Murder in West Cork is for entertainment, even if this one is a bit closer to home. At the end of the day, the mini-series is here to make you click Next Episode and sit still for over three hours to find out what happened to this woman.
As Irish people, we are deeply invested in this case, which means that we all know of Ian Bailey. Although he was never charged in Ireland, he was found guilty in France where he was convicted in his absence and without legal representation. He was sentenced to 25 years.
The French court has attempted to extradite him three times from Ireland without success. He maintains his innocence and has slammed this documentary as ‘poisonous propaganda’. (Despite his willingness to appear in the series)© Provided by Evoke.ie Pierre-Louis aged nine with mother Sophie Toscan du Plantier. Pic: File
The three-part documentary is not afraid to point fingers and shoved Ian into the limelight once again. His life before Sophie’s murder is dissected, he is painted as a figure who found ‘nirvana’ in Ireland after fleeing from England.
While Sophie is a beloved figure in the community, Ian is a shifty ‘blow-in’ who was seen as somewhat of a snob by residents who stated he was ‘appropriating Irish culture’.
Between building up the myth of Sophie and Ian, the Garda investigation is touched on and of course, the contradictory testimonies of the key witness Marie Farrell.© Provided by Evoke.ie Sophie: A Murder in West Cork Pic: Netflix
Although Ian has stated his disdain for the documentary, he gets to have his say in the series. While Netflix may point fingers, he is there once again to proclaim his innocence and share his side of events.
Sophie’s story has been overshadowed by Ian for the past two and a half decades. It’s seen in Jim Sheridan’s five-part examination of the case Murder at the Cottage which is airing on Sky and in the infamous West Cork podcast.
While Ian appears in this documentary, Netflix makes it clear that this is Sophie’s story. That we focus on her life and her legacy.© Provided by Evoke.ie Sophie: A Murder in West Cork Pic: Netflix
Viewers understand, perhaps for the first time, who Sophie really was before she fled from her beautiful Cork cottage in her pyjamas – before she became a mythical figure in Irish culture.
While some out there may ask: ‘Do we need another documentary about Sophie?’, the answer simply is ‘yes’ because we finally get a look into who she was, not what she became.
Sophie: A Murder in West Cork lands on Netflix on Wednesday June 30