‘Spies’ a little murky without background

  • By Tish Wells McClatchy Newspapers
  • Monday, April 1, 2013 9:07pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

In BBC America’s adaptation of “Spies of Warsaw,” David Tennant plays Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier, a French military attache attached to the embassy in Warsaw during the run-up to World War II.

Unfortunately, despite a valiant attempt, Tennant never quite pulls off the Frenchman.

That, on top of the series’ leisurely pacing and a flawed assumption that viewers must know what is going on in that period of history in Eastern Europe, leads to a disappointing two-part outing for the cable network. (The show starts Wednesday and concludes April 10.)

An intelligence officer, Mercier runs agents into Germany for information about the Nazis. A World War I veteran, he sees another war on the horizon. His superiors in Paris don’t agree.

Few are who they seem to be in Warsaw. The city is filled with secret agents from across Europe, both White and Soviet Russians, Germans, Brits, Poles and others.

Some of the spies are even in danger from their own governments. As Viktor Rozen (Alan Corduner), a Bolshevik working for the Soviet Union who’s threatened by Stalin’s purges, confesses to Mercier, “You work half your life — 25 years of secrets and obedience — and still you’re afraid of the knock on the door at midnight.”

The dangers of being Jewish pervade the series. “Spies of Warsaw” ends in 1939; a year later, Warsaw’s Jews would be herded behind ghetto walls before being sent to Nazi death camps.

Mercier does his best to help those who ask him. He’s aided by his Polish intelligence counterpart, Antoni Pakulski (Marcin Dorocinski), whom he’s known for almost 20 years from when they fought the Russians on the Polish border.

A widower, Mercier falls in love with a Polish woman, Anna Skarbek (Janet Montgomery), a lawyer for the League of Nations, living with an exiled Russian journalist.

An excellent actor, Tennant is best known in the U.S. for playing the 10th “Doctor Who.”

If you know about the real-life “special friendship” between Poland and France, it is easier to understand the ending. It’s very clear in Alan Furst’s novel, “Spies of Warsaw,” but less so here.

“Spies of Warsaw” contains scenes of nudity and sex.

Watch it

“Spies of Warsaw” airs at 9 p.m. Wednesday and April 10 on BBC America.

More in Life

Mukilteo’s Hani Hani scores with the police chief

The Japanese restaurant serves dishes (poke, ramen, grill) inspired by the Hawaiian islands.

‘Coco’ is another eye-popping home run for Pixar/Disney

The animated movie’s a lively, touching tale of honoring family, following dreams.

Beer of the Week: Scuttlebutt’s Barrel-aged Belgian Winter

Made in 2013, the dark strong ale was stowed away in barrels. The brewery tests one each year.

‘Love, Chaos and Dinner’ an Teatro ZinZanni’s original show

The “Parsian cabaret” is a superb circus dinner theater operation in Marymoor Park through April 29.

Heavy Hollywood headlines: Robert Horton’s movies preview

In the midst of all the sexual-misconduct allegations, the holiday film season offers some relief.

Denzel Washington’s remarkable performance isn’t helped by plot

The actor is convincing as an awkward, eccentric lawyer, but unconvincing contrivances pile up.

‘The Breadwinner’ animation is strong, but its story is stilted

The Cartoon Saloon film never lets you forget that you’re here to learn an important lesson.

Pianist Kaitlyn Gia Lee, 10, of Mill Creek, will perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major on Nov. 26 with the Everett Philharmonic Orchestra.
Young pianist to perform Mozart with Everett Philharmonic

Kaitlyn Gia Lee, 10, of Mill Creek, will play the piano at the Music for the Imagination concert.

Liz Oyama as Belle, Jimmi Cook as Gaston and John Han as Lefou star in the Edmonds Driftwood Players production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” opening Nov. 24. Magic Photo
In Driftwood’s ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ Belle has girl-power bend

Edmonds Driftwood Players presents Disney’s adaptation of the fair tale Nov. 24 through Dec. 17.

Most Read