‘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

Bob Jepperson’s Wild Love Story

A perfect circle of sounds, pictures and storytelling from the Anacortes author.

‘Shape of Water,’ ‘Big Little Lies’ lead Golden Globe nominations

“The Post” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” also collected a number of nominations.

Still looking for that one special recipe for the holidays?

Columnist Jan Roberts-Dominguez shares her traditional recipes for cheese soup and chocolate sauce.

Mukilteo Police Chief Cheol Kang is known for his people skills

The city’s top cop’s calm demeanor and holistic approach earns him the nickname “Yoda.”

Three posh places to escape this winter in north Puget Sound

Whether it’s wine country, backcountry or the seashore, a relaxing retreat is close at hand.

Getting a glimpse of what’s coming as we age

Everett Public Library reading to help you understand the changes ahead in your elder years.

This author is throwing a virtual party for book lovers

Jennifer Bardsley is hosting a Facebook get-together for young-adult book authors and readers.

Leanne Smiciklas, the friendly lady who served customers of her husband’s Old School Barbeque from a schoolbus parked in front of the Reptile Zoo east of Monroe, has died at 64. (Dan Bates / Herald file)
Without her, beloved BBQ hotspot in Monroe can’t go on

Leanne Smiciklas, who ran the now-closed Old School BBQ along Highway 2 with her husband, died.

Taylor Johnston waters a philodendron at her home on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Three guidebooks to help the novice houseplant gardener

Indoor plants are popular again — and we’re not talking about your grandma’s African violets.

Most Read