“ANYONE IN THE world who starts to make a lot of money… tends to come to the South of France to spend it.”
After 35 years spent managing one of the biggest rock bands in the world – and with his own villa in Éze-sur-Mer since the early Noughties – Paul McGuinness is certainly speaking from experience.
It’s that personal involvement with the area that prompted McGuinness and director Neil Jordan to create Riviera, Sky Atlantic‘s new high-drama TV show set along the sun-soaked stretch of French coastline from Saint-Tropez to Monaco.
Following his retirement from the music industry in 2013, McGuinness began pitching the seed of his original idea out to screenwriters and directors. His only stipulation was that the responses included “glamour, wealth, family and crime,” which the 65-year-old last month told GQ he considered “the basic ingredients” of life on the Côte d’Azur.
Academy Award winner Jordan came on board, and along with writer John Banville, the men began to shape the story arc of Riviera, which launches on Sky Atlantic today.
While the lavish, controversy-filled world inhabited by Julia Stiles and Lena Olin might seem inconceivable to some viewers, McGuinness says his vision for the show was firmly rooted in reality.
“Rich people are very keen to keep their privacy and there’s a lot going on in the south of France that is not written about in the newspapers,” he explains. “Lots of rumours, lots of mysteries and rich people doing terrible things to one another, but out of sight,” is McGuinness’s short-form explanation of the show’s first season.
Part family drama, part intoxicating crime thriller, Riviera follows the moral descent of American art dealer Georgina Clios (Julia Stiles), whose idyllic life is shattered when her billionaire husband Constantine is killed in a yacht explosion.
Georgina begins to suspect the explosion may have been part of a plot to murder Constantine, or indeed that her husband may still be alive, and as she’s drawn further in, her story intertwines with her husband’s ex-wife Irina (Lena Olin) and his three troubled stepchildren.
While creating the world of the show, McGuinness invited Jordan and Banville to his villa, where he told the Irish Times the trio spent several weeks bouncing ideas off each other under the Mediterranean sun.
For McGuinness, who has spent much of his downtime on the Riviera over the last two decades or so, there was no question that the stunning backdrop of Nice, Cannes, Antibes and the other towns dotted along the French south coast would be an integral part of the show’s fabric.
“The location is, of course, the real star of the show because when you point a camera in nearly any direction there’s something that looks good,” he says of his decision to avoid film studios and other artificial surroundings.
Indeed, Riviera is filmed almost exclusively on location, with Nice’s Place Massena, Monaco’s Grimaldi Forum and the Grand-Hôtel Du Cap-Ferrat all featuring heavily throughout the ten-episode season.
The playwright Somerset Maugham described the Côte d’Azur as “a sunny place for shady people,” and it’s a line McGuinness, Jordan and co. kept in mind when conceiving the show.
“In Riviera, the fortune that maintains an immaculate lifestyle is revealed to be tainted with dishonesty… and, in the end, murder,” says Jordan. “So Riviera is, at its heart, a story of the genuinely filthy rich.”
Immerse yourself in the lavish, glamorous and dangerous world of Riviera. All ten episodes of Riviera are now available exclusively on Sky Atlantic.
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