[Marxism] Alan Furst novel adapted for cable TV

Louis Proyect 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
Television Review
Lonely Spy in a Love Triangle

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 
Maginot Line.

Spies of Warsaw

BBC America, Wednesday nights at 9, Eastern and Pacific times; 8, 
Central time.

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).

More information about the Marxism mailing list