‘Spies of Warsaw’ episode 1 review

A clerverly skilled adaption of Furst’s spy novel!

Spies of Warsaw

Spy stories never age; Telling a spy story with the right amount of believable intrigue, stealth and craft, is not as easily pulled off. As a huge fan of anything spy related (minus Bond films, although Daniel Craig I must admit has piqued my interest) I was highly anticipating watching the adaption of Alan Furst’s acclaimed novel. With a stunning cast and locations, on paper it’s certainly sounds a hit. But does it live up to expectation? And more importantly do I believe these characters are telling me a believable spy story?

Spies of Warsaw sees David Tennant as Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier a military attaché stationed in Warsaw in 1937 after the first world war to covertly gather intelligence using various assets – mindful there may be another war on the way and fearful Hitler’s strategic manoeuvres have changed, while also performing his diplomatic duties at various functions (none of which he likes very much). Tennant embodies what we’ve come to expect of a traditional spy. Even having the old Bond trait of having the ladies fall at his feet. Quite how a spy remains covert when all the women seemingly fancy the leading man is a mystery. There must be some gadget that make the males in the room oblivious to what’s going on.

Unfortunately the world of espionage is never safe and many assets don’t live to tell the tale…or at least not officially anyway. Edvard Uhl (Ludger Pistor) is used by Mercier to get German military plans, duped into thinking he’s met a countess (Ann Eleonora Jorgensen) who has fallen in love with him and then when his identity is discovered shipped off with a fake passport, the realisation the love was a lie and reports of his death angering the Germans. The Countess / Olga meets an even grisly end having been tortured and killed by the Germans.

Complicating matters is Anna Skarbek (Janet Montgomery) a Parisian lawyer with the League of Nations whom Mercier is instantly attracted to (naturally) but is initially thwarted by the fact she’s in relationship with Maxim Mostov (Piotr Baumann), a Russian Émigré dissident. Montgomery had no real role other than that of a love interest in the first part. Her relationship with Maxim as much a mystery to the audience as the men around her. Meanwhile Mercier’s superiors are also suspicious of the relationship, with French bureaucrat Jourdain (Burn Gorman) concerned by the Russian she lives with as well as dislike over Mercier’s less than covert risk-taking.

Performances in the two-parter are outstanding with David Tennant effortlessly fitting into the world of espionage. The streets of Warsaw also help the authenticity and sense of danger is heightened for all concerned. Unfortunately the romance element let the drama down as were often taken away from plot to indulge in random meetings between Anna and Mercier but with very little chemistry to make me believe they are desperately in love.

The background music at times was too much, too often and periodically took me out of the story as I got irritated with the constant Jazz sounds. (I’m not a fan of Jazz so that may have had a bearing). For some the story may appear slow especially the first 30 minutes but by the end of the first half although you may not be enthralled, you’ll certainly (like a good spy) be curious.