‘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

Where the wild things are in Snohomish

Step into the studio of Imps and Monsters creator Justin Hillgrove for a Black Friday sale.

Meet Nellie, Thor, Raven, Lola, Jasper, Gunner and Bella

These six dogs are waiting for loving homes.

Did you know? Bats edition

Worthwhile Everett library reading and viewing about bats of the animal, sport and hero varieties.

Don’t forbid friendship with back-talking neighbor kid

Q: Our 8-year-old has suddenly developed a very sassy mouth. She picked… Continue reading

How birds stay alive in winter and what you can do to help

When the weather turns chilly, columnist Sharon Wootton’s thoughts turn to birds coping with cold.

Don’t get scammed: Think before you click on email links

An email that was supposedly from iTunes is a scam that targeted busy parents.

Sweden’s Glass Country sparkles like a hand-blown bauble

You can blame my Norwegian heritage, but I’m not so hot on… Continue reading

The pros’ snow: Lake Tahoe a big draw for skiers of all stripes

North Lake Tahoe is home to one of the largest concentrations of ski resorts in North America.

Teen idol David Cassidy remains in Florida hospital

The former pop star is dealing with multiple organ failure.

Most Read