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Spies of Warsaw(TV) (2012)
At the French embassy in Warsaw, the new military attaché, Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier (Tennant), is drawn into a world of abduction, betrayal and intrigue in the diplomatic salons and back alleys of the city. At the same time, the handsome aristocrat is involved in a passionate love affair with a Parisian woman of Polish heritage (Montgomery), a lawyer for the League of Nations. Risking his life, Mercier works in the shadows amid a remarkable cast of characters, some known to him as spies, some never to be revealed. It is a city where people drink and fight and spy and love, because no one knows what tomorrow will bring.
For more about Spies of Warsaw and the Spies of Warsaw Blu-ray release, see Spies of Warsaw Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on April 29, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: David Tennant, Janet Montgomery
Director: Coky Giedroyc
» See full cast & crew
Spies of Warsaw Blu-ray Review
A sluggish period misfire from the usually surefire BBC...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, April 29, 2013
Flushed Away. Across the Universe. The Bank Job. The common denominator? English screenwriters Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement, whose experience penning animated comedies, Beatles-inspired musicals and period heist thrillers seem like strange prep work for their latest venture, a two-part BBC mini based on the historical fiction novel of the same name by espionage master Alan Furst. Spies of Warsaw is as serious as a stroke, without a sharp hook or a chewy gimmick to be had, and the writing duo struggle accordingly. Balance is an issue, with the series' time split too loosely between romance and drama, and the dialogue isn't nearly as compelling as some of the performances. More problematic is the abundance of short, none-too-sweet little anticlimaxes that sully Warsaw's pacing and lend a hobble to its gait. It's meaty stuff when it hits; a humorless lost episode of Doctor Who when it misses. And most will find it as increasingly underwhelming as it is handsomely crafted.
In the years leading up to the Second World War, at the French embassy in Warsaw, military attaché Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier (David Tennant) takes a particular interest in the ever-expanding German border, seeing the inevitably of the Nazi invasion that is to come. He also takes a particular interest in a League of Nations lawyer named Anna Skarbek (Janet Montgomery), the beautiful mistress of Russian writer and socialist Maxim Mostov (Piotr Baumann). Engaging in a tricky game of spycraft and love, Mercier carefully allies himself with the few men he can trust, chief among them Polish colonel Antoni Pakulski (Marcin Dorocinski). Narrowly surviving the dangers of his covert activities, the diplomat turned spy eventually finds himself on a train to Czechoslovakia, separated from Anna, who flees to Spain after tragedy strikes. With the German war machine ready to advance, Mercier and Pakulski race to save as many lives as he can.
Tennant delivers a curious, Blue Steel-ed performance as the series' spy in the making, relying on a cocked eyebrow and a glassy gaze to convey his conviction and intentions. Well to do, well-dressed attaché in public, trench-coated vigilante in secret, you might expect something more akin to a Warsaw Dark Knight or, at the very least, a more complex, fully realized hero of the people. Instead, Tennant is miscast; clanky, mechanical and too cool a customer as Mercier, serviceable and all too interchangeable as leading man. Any Brit with a clinched brow and fire in his step could have stared down the barrel of a potential informant's gun and accomplished as much, and with fewer expectations at his back. Thankfully, his supporting cast injects far more intrigue into the intrigue, particularly Dorocinski, whose colonel has a more interesting arc, and Skarbek, whose passions and vulnerability are far more palpable, even though she sometimes has very little to do beyond being lovely and fawning on cue.
Not that La Frenais, Clement and director Coky Giedroyc's adaptation leaves the cast much in the way of choice or opportunity. Briskly told but dutifully, initially dreadfully paced, it mistakes slow for dramatic and simmering for suspenseful, and only manages both in the waning minutes of its second half. The series' production design tells a more expansive tale than the script, its costume are full of more character than its often thinly developed spies, and the look and feel of the destinations on Mercier's itinerary contribute far more to the period illusion than Rob Lane's misplaced lounge-noir score, which is so at odds with the tone of the series that it proves an early and ongoing distraction. And when a miniseries' production design is more memorable and carefully employed than anything else on screen, you know something, somewhere has run afoul of the storytellers' intentions.
At its best, Spies of Warsaw remains a divisive two-part drama. For every negative review heaped on its shoulders, a positive review stands waiting to relieve its burden. Some have praised Tennant's stoic turn and the miniseries' stiff, deliberate melodrama; others have come away satisfied but unimpressed; still others have expressed utter disappointment in the usually reliable BBC. Few, though, will argue that Spies of Warsaw isn't as poised or confident as it could be, losing sight of its endgame in its juggling of prewar history, homegrown espionage and steamy trysts, two of which La Frenais, Clement or Giedroyc always seem to bobble or drop while grasping for the other.
Spies of Warsaw Blu-ray, Video Quality
With a clean, altogether striking 1080p/AVC-encoded video presentation, Spies of Warsaw earns its high definition stripes. Though cursed with the same bright, chilly digital sheen that accompanies most every BBC production or period miniseries, color and contrast are true to the series' source, with a pleasing, aged-newspaper palette, subdued primaries and smoky black levels, all of which complement Giedroyc and cinematographer Wojciech Szepel's intentions. Detail is excellent as usual, and inherent noise is held to a minimum. Edge definition is crisp, satisfying and largely free of ringing, fine textures are nicely resolved, and closeups reveal every nick, wrinkle and pore. Crush is a frequent offender, though, and delineation suffers. Fortunately, macroblocking, shimmering and banding are kept in check, and aliasing and other serious anomalies are nowhere to be found.
Spies of Warsaw Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Spies of Warsaw features a decent DTS-HD Master Audio stereo mix that does a reasonably good job with what little it's handed. Dialogue is intelligible and well-prioritized, effects are fairly convincing and relatively weighty (given the lack of proper LFE support), and Rob Lane's score, however out of place, mingles with the soundscape effortlessly. The entire sonic experience is a bit hollow, though; almost tinny, to the point that entire scenes have an unnaturally flat, metallic quality contrary to the era and the miniseries' cinematic pursuits. It isn't too distracting, particularly if you're familiar with the tone and tenor of similar BBC period productions, but it doesn't help either.
Spies of Warsaw Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The only extra available is a making-of featurette, "David Tennant on Spies of Warsaw" (HD, 10 minutes), which begins at the genesis of the project and Tennant's interest in the material and briskly moves through the history behind the story, the characters, the actors and the authenticity of the production.
Spies of Warsaw Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Joyless and uneventful, the Spies of Warsaw miniseries is as dry and disappointing as espionage thrillers and WII period pieces come, backed by a faulty script, poor pacing, competing romantic and dramatic priorities, hit or miss performances, and some rather uninteresting work from a miscast, hyper-stoic David Tennant. The two-part drama has garnered a fair bit of praise, which warrants some consideration, but both audiences and critics are split right down the middle. BBC Home Entertainment's Blu-ray release is a solid one -- with a terrific video presentation and decent lossless audio track -- despite being beholden to the miniseries' two-channel sound design. The disc's anemic supplemental package doesn't offer much in the way of additional value either, meaning frugal buyers should beware.
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Spies of Warsaw Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Amazon Blu-ray Deal of the Week: Spies of Warsaw and D-Day Rememb... - August 31, 2014
Amazon's Blu-ray Deals of the Week affect the BBC miniseries Spies of Warsaw and MGM/Fox's six-film D-Day Remembered bundle. Through September 6th, Amazon is offering Spies of Warsaw for a 52% discount from its MSRP of $24.98 and D-Day Remembered for a 69% discount ...
• Spies of Warsaw Blu-ray - January 23, 2013
This April, BBC Home Entertainment will release director Coky Giedroyc's two-part drama, Spies of Warsaw, on Blu-ray. Based on the book by Alan Furst, the BBC adaptation's tale of abduction, betrayal and intrigue streets on April 16th.
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