Archives for posts with tag: david tennant

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.


It’s always hard to tell what’s going to happen in a movie about Ireland during the Troubles, or I guess at any other time, too. It might be completely miserable and heart-wrenching and make you watch someone’s fingernails get pulled out (The Wind that Shakes the Barley, e.g.), or it might be political and stirring (Michael Collins) or, apparently, it might be drippy and asinine, like The Last September.

In this film, it is 1920, and Lord and Lady Naylor (Michael Gambon and Maggie Smith) are landed gentry in Ireland; their sympathies are with the English, as is entirely logical. Staying with them is their more-or-less orphaned niece, Lois (Keeley Hawes), whom a young British army officer (a Captain Colthurst, played by David Tennant with an efficient mustache) loves to distraction. Rounding out the house-party are Mr. and Mrs. Montmorency (Lambert Wilson and somebody) and Marda Norton (Fiona Shaw).

This could have been a moderately intelligent film about the death of empire, or what happens to people like the Naylors when their world ceases to exist, or even about the IRA. But it wasn’t. Instead it was a stupid movie about a love triangle, consisting of Lois, poor Colthurst, and a Peter Connelly (Gary Lydon), who might be a member of some revolutionary organization but generally seems to be a free-lance murderer. Now, I hate plots driven by love triangles, because they usually involve somebody being stupid or cruel or both, and so it’s hard to feel any empathy. And it’s worse when the love triangle is frankly absurd, as this one is. Lois apparently grew up with Peter, and harbors tender feelings, but all we see him do is shoot a Black & Tan in the head and try to rape Lois twice (maybe I misread the situation both times, but I don’t think so, and if I did… the director maybe should have made different choices). Now, Black & Tans were horrible, and this one was carefully set up to be hateful, but even so that’s not really a love affair with a future. Colthurst, for his part, is poor and comes from no family at all, but he’s very much in love with Lois and even his mustache is just achingly honest and dutiful.

So of course she prefers Peter, because she is an idiot, and of course she won’t actually give Colthurst his walking papers, because she is cruel, and of course this ends in literally the worst possible way, because, as I said, she is an idiot.

Otherwise Mr. Montmorency and Miss Norton are in love and it’s a bit sad, and Maggie Smith, as is apparently her job, refuses to believe that her world is changing.


  • Lambert Wilson’s English is perfect. When he came onto the screen I thought, “He looks awfully French in general and like the Merovingian in particular but it couldn’t be he.” It is.
  • Keeley Hawes is always playing these parts, but she remains likable. Not here, obviously, but it won’t put me off her in future. Also, her fringe is a disaster.
  • Conversely, David Tennant has a lot of ground to make up with me, because “Doctor Who” became unbearable during his incumbency, but this helped, rather. He was just so lost looking and affecting. Well, and the uniform.

Director: Deborah Warner
Rating: R
Length: 103 min.
Score: 1/5.