Pete Doherty to star in film in France, his new spiritual home

Babyshambles singer, hailed as 'the new Serge Gainsbourg', will take lead role opposite Charlotte Gainsbourg

It could have been the details of his £250-a-day drug addiction, or the pictures of his crack pipe in the tabloids. It could have been the many appearances he made in court, or the ones he failed to make on stage. Whatever the cause, one thing's for sure: between Britain and Pete Doherty, it's been over for some time.

But, as he may say now: tant pis. For Doherty has found a new love – and this time the feeling's mutual. Across the Channel, the shambolic singer is greeted not with snorts of derision but with murmurs of awe. In France, Doherty has found his spiritual home.

Last week, in a sign that France has decided Doherty belongs in its pantheon of Renaissance men, it was announced that he is to make his acting debut in a film based on the life of 19th-century poet and dramatist Alfred de Musset. Doherty will star opposite Charlotte Gainsbourg, daughter of France's original celebrity bad-boy, Serge Gainsbourg, and his English rose third wife, Jane Birkin. Shooting starts in Paris later this month.

"The story is a love triangle, so it's pretty intense and romantic," said Doherty. "I don't know if I'm a good actor, but they say I am."

The news of his acting debut is likely to raise an eyebrow in his homeland, where the louche ex-Libertines frontman has tended to make the headlines for his substance abuse, legal troubles and tumultuous – now defunct – relationship with supermodel Kate Moss. But in France, where he began spending time after being banned by a British court from living anywhere with a London postcode, it will not have provoked such surprise. There, the 31-year-old has established himself as a multi-talented Romantic hero.

"In Britain, Doherty is known for his relationship with Kate Moss; he's almost a cartoon figure. Here in France he has always drawn the crowds. He's seen as a kind of troubled, accursed but rather romantic poetic figure, which strikes a chord with the French," said Noëmie Lecoq, a music writer for French magazine Les Inrockuptibles.

His poetry is delighting French fans. One, writing on his website, said: "I don't know how to explain what I feel when I read your texts. I just know that I feel better. You must go on like that, Peter. We love you. You are the greatest poet of our century. Thank you!"

Aware of his huge popularity in France, Doherty has multiplied his artistic activities in the country, unveiling a collection of jewellery in Paris and showing an exhibition of his paintings at a quirky Montmartre gallery. His poetic output has also taken on a Gallic bent, with a website, Letters from Albion, featuring new posts including "Frowns and pouts in Paris and London" and "Bonjour Tristesse".

Yet it is with his music that the Babyshambles star continues to wield the most power. Every time he appears in France his concerts provoke frenzied adoration. The mere mention of his name on the bill of a concert or festival can provoke an influx of fans and scenes of near-hysteria, despite his well-documented habit of cancelling at the last minute.

In Nice in July there were tears among disappointed visitors to a rock festival, some of whom had travelled hundreds of miles to see Doherty, when he failed to show up. Rumours spread that he had been rushed to hospital, reportedly from an overdose, but Le Parisien said he had been seen earlier that day enjoying a beer on the terrace of a Paris café hours before he was due on stage.

For Lecoq, there is a certain irony in that fact that Doherty will be starring opposite Gainsbourg, whose father was adored in France for his music, lyrics and unlikely sex appeal. "Serge Gainsbourg had the same decadent image, so maybe they will get on well," she said.

Julien Bordier, a music critic with L'Express magazine, agreed. "Doherty does in some ways remind me of Serge Gainsbourg; the romantic image, the decadence, the excesses," he said.

Suffering is seen as a necessary rite of passage for any self-respecting Gallic artist. Just as the fin-de-siècle geniuses endured cold garrets and madness-inducing absinthe, Doherty has made trips to rehab centres and jail, and his equivalent of the green fairy comes in the form of crack cocaine and heroin.

Celebrities in France are frequently not so well appreciated elsewhere. While many Anglo-Saxons dismissed Gainsbourg as an occasionally talented drunken buffoon, the French lauded him as a singer, songwriter, poet and philosopher even when he was on TV shouting obscenities, recording a reggae version of "La Marseillaise" or setting fire to banknotes.


Kim Willsher in Paris

The GuardianTramp

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