This review contains spoilers.
Hopefully, anyone trying to quit smoking this January missed Spies Of Warsaw, because nowhere on TV since Mad Men have filthy fags looked so delicious. Smoke-filled Parisian jazz clubs, smouldering Gauloises in peeling French manoirs, post-coital light-ups in the bed of English aristocrats, even one heroic, well-aimed butt that helped our hero escape Nazi capture… Nicotine should have topped the bill.
Except of course, David Tennant was the real star, and every bit as deliciously framed as the endless glowing fag ends. Having lost the beautiful Anna, Mercier did what every French noble-turned-spy worth their sel does, and upped sticks to his country estate to drink his way through the cellar and stare, disconsolate, into the dust motes.
I found brooding, melancholy Mercier much more captivating than the Boy’s Own Adventure playboy spy we met last week. Watching Tennant stride heartbroken through the woods with only the soundtrack’s soft jazz horns for company, shotgun cocked and a brace of game swinging at his hip, Spies of Warsaw finally began to emote for me.
The mantle of pre-war gloom Part One told us was lowering upon Europe made its presence felt in Part Two; a claustrophobic cloud that settled heavily on Poland’s skylines. Gone were the clichéd Gestapo villains (though a rum bunch of gypsy bandits from The Big Book of Cartoon Baddies did tip up towards the end), and in their stead came paranoia, suspense and some achingly romantic storytelling.
Mercier’s spy antics were slower, and more refined this week, accounting perhaps for the improvement in tension. Aside from his flash-bang-boom escape from Nazi abduction and efficient removal of some dastardly Russians lurking in his woods (“We’re going to need shovels” is surely the most languid confession to murder ever spoken on television), there was less action, and as a consequence, much more peril.
Mercier and Halbach’s subdued trip to Berlin under Swiss passports was fraught with unease, as were the Colonel’s meetings with Johannes Elter and Dr Lapp. Each encounter was undercut with the wavering question of who was double-crossing whom, so much so that I’m still not quite sure who to trust. Not Max, that’s for sure, the swine.
We’re left of course with a series of questions that history helps us guess at answers to. Post-invasion, what happened to Anna’s dethroned aristocrat mother? And to Mercier’s bohemian sister Gabrielle (Tuppence Middleton) and her Jewish, jazz-pianist boyfriend? The Rosens we know chose their own way out of France, one that didn’t involve a car chase, light aircraft or gold-lined train.
Like last January’s chest-wrenchingly sad Birdsong, Spies Of Warsaw eventually boiled down to the story of a beautiful couple trying to stay alive in an ugly war. Of all Tennant’s bombastic, nostril-flaring “I’m a Time Lord” speeches in Doctor Who, his closing scene here was the most heroic we’ve seen him. As a symphony violinist plays an elegiac air, the assembled survivors look ahead to their clouded futures, and ask “What now?”
Nativity 3, by the sounds of it.
Read Louisa’s review of Spies Of Warsaw Part One, here.
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