This miniseries is based on Alan Furst’s Spies of Warsaw (unsurprisingly), which is a book I have read (surprisingly), and in fact reminded me why I don’t read trashy historical or spy novels. It’s because they’re trashy. The book has no character development whatsoever, the dialogue is laughable, and it suffers from over-sharing the research. Also, the hero, though not exactly handsome (and necessarily 46 or over, having served in the Great War), is just one of those smooth, brilliant, daring chaps at whom women throw themselves and by whom no stratagem gets. He’s like Pug in The Winds of War, if The Winds of War was written by a hack, Pug was French, and I regretted having read it.

Anyway. It’s the late 30s in Warsaw. Jean-François Mercier (David Tennant), a minor nobleman, cavalry colonel and decorated, wounded veteran, widower, and military attaché to the French embassy, finds himself pulled into the fairly sordid world of international espionage. He gets to stick it to the Nazis, though, so it’s less sordid in his case, and I don’t know why he’s complaining. He also, naturally, has realized (as has no one else in Paris or elsewhere) that the Maginot Line is going to turn out to be a not very hilarious joke. He is self-righteous about this. On the way, though, he meets the lovely Anna Skarbek (Janet Montgomery), who is a lawyer for the League of Nations, or something else totally useless but extremely high-minded. She’s living with a Russian drunk. I wonder how that’ll turn out.

Nothing especially unexpected happens. I mean, spoiler alert: this ends in a Nazi invasion. Mr. Tennant gets to swan around in various uniforms, dinner dress, and totally unconvincing Polish peasant garb, foiling minor Nazi plots and being shot at by incompetent buffoons. He acts…like he always does, which is fine, I guess. Perhaps the most charming thing is the number of minor actors you recognize from other things: Linda Bassett as a Soviet diplomat/spy, Anton Lesser as a member of the Abwehr (guy can’t catch a break), Burn Gorman wonderfully uptight as Mercier’s superior at the embassy, Julian Glover gouty and crotchety as his uniformed superior in Paris, Fenella Woolgar as a disaffected aristocrat.

Oh, and Mercier’s best friend, a Polish officer called Antoni Something-or-other (Marcin Dorocinski), who plays the Brendanawicz character. You know, indulgent, caring, full of eye-rolling at your ridiculous antics. I think this may be the most important character in any drama. Mercutio was one, an early and stupendous get-a-grip friend. Antoni is great.

Stray notes:

  • All the changes that the series made from the book are good ones. Book Mercier does a lot of shagging in inappropriate places and is egged on by his daughter to do so. Series Mercier has merely an encouraging sister, and is not tempted by his cousin’s charms. There’s also a group of cartoonish SS officers who make no sense and do not appear in the screen version.
  • I am so tired of heroes who are posh and have to be around posh people but don’t enjoy it because they’re above it and they only go to parties because they have to for either espionage or merely social reasons. As a corollary, it is also irritating when they fall in love with the love interest because the love interest is the only person who understands their obviously tragic plight at formal dinners. Give me a protagonist who likes caviar, for pete’s sake.

Director: Coky Giedroyc et al.
Rating: NA
Length: about three hours?
Score: 3/5.

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