Ten Percent: Can Call My Agent's British remake recapture the magic?

By Steven McIntosh
Entertainment reporter

  • Published
The cast of Ten PercentImage source, Rob Youngson
Image caption,
Ten Percent moves the fictional talent agency of Call My Agent from Paris to London, with a new cast

Expectations are high for the English-language remake of French TV series Call My Agent. But, its writer tells BBC News, adapting a huge hit for another country can be très difficile.

Set in a fictional talent agency in Paris, the original Call My Agent (Dix pour cent in French) depicted the lives of staff who have to balance the fragile egos of their celebrity clients with the strict demands of movie studios.

The show built a cult following after its 2015 launch, but really caught fire when Netflix snapped up the first three seasons during lockdown. Fans and critics praised it for being shrewdly observed and shining a light on a world we never normally glimpse.

However, taking a successful concept and transplanting it to the UK is far from simple. John Morton, who has written the new English-language version, Ten Percent, says the cultural backdrop of the original is unique to France.

"To a non-Parisian, there's a kind of elegance to Paris, an architectural coherence. They argue stylishly, the fall in love stylishly. It's all said, they tell each other exactly what they think," he says. "British people aren't like that at all.

"Not that we are dishonest, but we are very poor at saying what we mean. We're culturally not brought up to do that. So that's a very different dynamic to one of the things that's so attractive about the French show."

Which raises the question of how to go about moving the fictional agency to London. But, Morton suggests, the job of being an agent actually lends itself well to a British sensibility.

Image source, Netflix
Image caption,
The staff in the original French series worked for the fictional ASK agency in Paris

Diplomacy is one of the key skills when trying to keep the peace and sugar-coat bad news - such as telling a Hollywood star they didn't get a part, or that a studio said they looked too old.

"Agents are treading a very narrow ledge between truth and falsehood all the time," Morton notes. "That gap between what's actually being said or done and the truth behind it, that's where all the good stuff is for me as a writer - the comedy, the pathos, the drama."

'Lost in translation'

Morton, previously known for satirical sitcoms Twenty Twelve and W1A, began working on the adaptation in 2019. But remakes are rarely loved universally, and the process of adapting something is full of potential pitfalls.

Elena Balzano, a professional translator who is also a huge film fan, tells BBC News: "When I watch an English-language remake, I sometimes feel like the adaptation is inadequate and the remake is supposed to be better simply because actors speak in English. Nothing meaningful is being added, and so much context and nuance is - literally - lost in translation.

"The meaning of the story in its original setting can never be the same in the remake. A story is much, much more than just a plot and characters: the social, historical background is a quintessential part of it. A clever remake takes the original plot and adapts it to a new setting, with meticulous needlework."

Fans of Call My Agent will be relieved to hear this is exactly what Morton says he has tried to achieve with Ten Percent. While the agency has been moved to London and many characters and storylines have been carried over, the British version has its own identity.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Ten Percent writer John Morton is well known for satirical series such as Twenty Twelve and W1A

The point remains, however, that purists may feel remaking at all is disrespectful to the original, or at least unnecessary. Morton acknowledges that argument, saying he "wouldn't try to defend us against it", but he reiterates that the concept "fits the British world as well [as the French], and maybe even better".

He also points out: "Most people who will see this on Amazon, disproportionately, the truth is they won't have seen the French show because a very disappointingly small number of people really watch shows with subtitles.

"That's the very sad truth. But that means that this show, the holy grail is we bring the fans of the French show with us if we can. But it also has to work fresh out of the box as a thing you've never seen before."

While the success of South Korea's Squid Game might signal a change in audience attitudes to subtitles, it is still true that many US and UK viewers are reluctant to watch foreign-language products. When he presented the Golden Globes, Ricky Gervais once described best foreign-language film as "a category nobody in America cares about".

Which helps explain why English-language remakes are such big business.

English-language adaptations

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara starred in the English-language remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
  • The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was a hugely successful book series written by the late Stieg Larsson about an eccentric but ingenious hacker who helps a disgraced journalist solve a murder. It was adapted into a Swedish-language film series starring Noomi Rapace. An English-language adaptation followed starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara.
  • Oscar-winning Danish film Another Round told the story of a man and his friends who attempt to improve their creativity and stress levels by maintaining a minimum level of drunkenness at all times. An English-language remake starring Leonardo DiCaprio in the role originally played by Mads Mikkelsen is now in the works.
  • The superb French film Untouchable, about the bond a wealthy quadriplegic man forms with his streetwise carer, was remade for a US audience as The Upside, starring Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart.
  • Coda, a remake of the 2014 French film La Famille Bélier, recently won best picture at the Oscars. It followed a teenage girl who has to juggle her ambitions to be a singer with the demands of helping her deaf family with their fishing business.
  • The Scandi-noir boom of the late noughties saw Danish crime series The Killing, which followed a knitwear-loving murder detective, attract a large global fanbase. A US remake began in 2011 and ran for four seasons.

Some scenes in Ten Percent are vintage Morton, with the same staccato, awkward energy of W1A. "The atmosphere is frenetic and the dialogue quick-fire," notes The Telegraph's TV critic Benji Wilson. "True to every Morton script, no one is really listening to what anyone else is saying."

Unlike a writer who works on an original screenplay with blank canvas, the role of an adaptor is complex, particularly when the source material is held in such high regard.

"So how much pressure..." we begin, not even finishing the question before Morton replies: "A lot!

Image source, Rob Youngson
Image caption,
Helena Bonham Carter, Dominic West and David Harewood are among the stars who make cameo appearances in Ten Percent

"It was very daunting, although, in equal measure, exciting," he continues. "It gave me pause for thought before I decided to have a go at it. Because I just thought, oh my God, how am I not going to [mess] this up? You know, because the French show is so good.

"And I had to find a way of moving creatively past that thought, otherwise I was never going to have the confidence to get loyal to a new version of it."

While Emily In Paris might have provided frothy French escapism during lockdown, the series' generous use of clichés and stereotypes irritated some Parisians. TV critics overwhelmingly preferred Call My Agent.

"Sorry Emily, Call My Agent is the best Netflix show about Paris," wrote Marie-Claire Chappet in Harper's Bazaar, praising the show's "witty script, brilliant insights and astonishing celebrity cameos".

Image source, Rob Youngson
Image caption,
Jim Broadbent (left, with Hiftu Quasem and Jack Davenport) plays the head of the agency

Morton is a huge fan of Call My Agent, but says he did not have any conversations with the original's writers during development. After being hired to do the adaptation, he rewatched the first season "carefully, slowly, analytically", but then "never went back to it again", to clear his mind.

"It's in there somewhere. You've imbibed it, but it's not on your shoulder all the time. I was surprised I quickly I became loyal to the new characters."

Ten Percent launches on Amazon Prime Video on Thursday.

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