“Downton Abbey” actor Hugh Bonneville takes the viewers on a grand tour of the architectural landmarks of Europe in the international version of “The Wonders of Europe” (“L’Europe des Merveilles”), the new documentary series from Studiocanal.
Watching the Acropolis being built before your very eyes or Versailles being enlarged by order of Louis XIV to become one of the most beautiful palaces in the world with its 73-meter long Hall of Mirrors and sumptuous gardens are just a couple of the time travel trips that Chengyu Prod.’s show takes you on.
Directed by Claire Benhaim, Angèle Berland, Christophe Widemann, Marine Suzzoni and Nicolas Bozino, the new high-end docu-series focusing on European cultural heritage and architecture was unveiled at Unifrance Rendez-Vous in Biarritz, the international market entirely dedicated to French TV programs.
“The Wonders of Europe” is enhanced by French composer Cascadeur’s original music and, for the international version, Bonneville’s narration. For the French version, it is André Dussollier who puts his voice at the documentary’s service.
The first season reveals the story of the people who built four European wonders, the Palace of Versailles, and the temples of the Acropolis, but also the Louvre in Paris, and the Alhambra in Granada.
Currently in the making, season two will also include four parts: two on monuments in France and probably one each in Germany and Italy. A third season is already under discussion.
“We choose the monuments in complete independence according to two criteria we had set: They must be among the most visited places on the continent and be representative of architectural wonders or great artistic moments,” Alix Lebrat, COO TV Series at Studiocanal, the international distributor of “The Wonders of Europe,” tells Variety. “But because of the restrictions linked to COVID at the beginning of the shooting, we had to adapt the order of presentation of the monuments from one season to the next.”
“The Wonders of Europe” is not just another documentary series. Telling European history through the prism of architecture, it was made with the same amount of care as a film. Each episode skilfully combines three key elements: interviews with historians and specialists; non-dialogue fiction that embodies the historical figures linked to the construction of the monuments; high-flying 3D modeling, illustrating the successive architectural changes, made by Motionorama in collaboration with the historical experts to ensure its accuracy.
“We were ambitious with this project. The budget was very solid for being a docu-series,” Lebrat says. “A very strong production requirement was set from the start to allow it to stand out.”
The challenge was met: The 52-minute entertaining episodes, displaying spectacular shots of the monuments, never run long. Each one also discloses many fascinating little-known facts about the construction of Europe’s world-famous monuments.
The non-dialogue fiction scenes, seen in 20%-25% of each episode, also contributes to making the series lively. “There was a great amount of work in terms of casting, costumes, make-up, scriptwriting and directing,” Lebrat says. “Fiction in documentaries may sometimes look a bit cheap if you don’t put the means in it and that’s really what we wanted to avoid.”
Again, historical advisors were present to ensure that every detail and accessory on set was accurate, as is shown in the making-of.
“The Vivendi group is committed to producing and developing European content that can travel the world and ‘The Wonders of Europe’ suits its mission,” says Lebrat.
Early feedback in Biarritz is very positive. “We’re aiming at a wide range of markets. The quality of production, storytelling and investment allow us to talk to platforms and traditional distributors used to this kind of format, as well as public broadcasters,” he says.
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