[Marxism] Alan Furst novel adapted for cable TV
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Apr 3 07:29:55 MDT 2013
Alan Furst is a really good novelist with obvious sympathies for the
left as I pointed out in a review of his "Red Gold"
(http://www.swans.com/library/art10/lproy11.html). BBC America is
available on Verizon and probably other cable providers as well. It is
definitely worth checking out.
NY Times April 2, 2013
Lonely Spy in a Love Triangle
By ALESSANDRA STANLEY
There is no such thing as a good old-fashioned spy story.
The best, especially the novels of John le Carré, focus on the cracks in
the system, double agents like Kim Philby who did more damage from
within than the enemy could manage on the other side. Some look into the
margins of history, digging out improbable subplots, like “Operation
Mincemeat,” a book about the disinformation campaign British
intelligence created to mislead Hitler about the invasion of Sicily. The
FX television series “The Americans” looks at cold war espionage from
the Soviet point of view: the heroes are two K.G.B. agents living
undercover in Reagan’s America.
So its almost a shock to find that the hero of “Spies of Warsaw,”
assigned to keep an eye on Germany before World War II, doesn’t have a
secret agenda behind his official secret agenda. This two-part series
that begins on Wednesday on BBC America is based on an Alan Furst novel
of the same title, and it is true to the original in story and in
spirit: it’s an enjoyable, straightforward espionage tale without a lot
of twists or extra layers.
In tone and atmosphere, it is a little like the first season of “The
Hour,” though that BBC series was a more richly imagined thriller that
wove espionage into a deeper look at British society — and the advent of
television news — in its postwar letdown.
“Spies of Warsaw,” which begins in 1937, is set amid candelabras and
barbed-wire fences in Poland, France and Germany, and brackets Polish
demimondaines, German industrialists, SS officers, Bolsheviks, Jewish
refugees and French military officers. Yet somehow the pace is sedate,
and the supposedly exotic characters cozily familiar.
Even though there is a love triangle of a French diplomat, his Polish
mistress and her Russian lover, “Spies of Warsaw” feels oddly like an
English countryside whodunit — more “Foyle’s War” than “Casablanca.”
Col. Jean-François Mercier (David Tennant) is a French military attaché
in Warsaw, a widower and wounded World War I hero who in 1920 also
fought in a Polish unit against the Red Army. Mercier is modeled closely
on de Gaulle, though he is much more handsome, and single and available.
Mercier has a front-row view of Germany’s preparations for war, and they
are hard to miss — the border keeps getting closer. As Mercier’s driver
puts it, “A man can rise from his bed in Poland, go down to the kitchen
and find himself in Germany.”
Mercier knows that war is imminent, but he has to fight denial — or
indifference — inside the French Embassy and even back in Paris, where
top officers in the Deuxième Bureau ignore or dispute his reports. His
one ally is General Beauvilliers (Julian Glover), who shares Mercier’s
mistrust of Pétain’s defense strategy and debriefs Mercier on German
invasion plans over oysters and choucroute at Brasserie Heininger, the
fictional Parisian restaurant that feeds intrigue in many of Mr. Furst’s
In Warsaw, Mercier covertly runs a small network of informants and
agents, but his official duties require him to put on the red trousers
and glittering epaulets of his dress uniform and attend lavish
diplomatic banquets and balls. He is bored by the social whirl, but it
brings him to Anna Skarbek (Janet Montgomery), a beautiful lawyer for
the League of Nations, who lives with Maxim Mostov (Piotr Baumann), a
Russian émigré writer with a deep thirst for vodka.
Mr. Tennant (“Dr. Who”) is reserved, cool and quite believable as
Mercier, a man scarred by combat and bereavement; he is plausible even
as a French country gentleman turned spymaster. But the focus on
European aristocrats is one of the weaknesses of the 2008 novel, and the
mini-series doesn’t quite overcome it, either.
Mr. Furst’s best novels shine a light on history’s nobodies: a Bulgarian
fisherman turned NKVD spy is the improbable hero of “Night Soldiers.”
His early works veered far from the usual people and locations to
explore the murkier complexities of wartime accommodation and resistance.
“Spies of Warsaw” charts a shallower course, and has an almost
comic-book adherence to stereotype, from the dashing Polish nobleman to
the sallow, pockmarked Nazi border guard. On the other hand, there is
nothing more satisfying than a prewar espionage story that shows, up
close and told-you-so, how most of Europe slept through Hitler’s rise.
There are many impediments to true love in “Spies of Warsaw,” but
Mercier, solitary and sorrowful, learns to trust his heart — and not the
Spies of Warsaw
BBC America, Wednesday nights at 9, Eastern and Pacific times; 8,
Produced by Fresh Pictures, BBC America and Apple Film for TV Poland in
association with Arte France and BBC Worldwide. Written by Dick Clement
and Ian La Frenais, based on the novel by Alan Furst; Richard Fell and
Chris Aird, executive producers.
WITH: David Tennant (Jean-François Mercier), Janet Montgomery (Anna
Skarbek), Marcin Dorocinski (Antoni Pakulski), Ludger Pistor (Edvard
Uhl), Burn Gorman (Jourdain), Ann Eleonora Jorgensen (“The
Countess”/Olga Musser), Piotr Baumann (Maxim Mostov), Miroslaw
Zbrojewicz (Marek), Ellie Haddington (Madame Dupin), Tuppence Middleton
(Gabrielle), Anton Lesser (Doctor Lapp), Adam Godley (Julius Halbach),
Nicholas Murchie (Johannes Elter) and Julian Glover (General Beauvilliers).
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