On BBC America comes a spy thriller mini-series that has a lot to offer with SPIES OF WAR.
This series tells the story of Jean-Francois Mercier (David Tennant), a man whose soul purpose seems to be trying to get his superiors to understand that Hitler is a threat. Working with the French Embassy, Mercier a decorated vet from the War of 1914 takes it upon himself to find the evidence that proves his fears.
What he doesn’t count on is falling for the beautiful Anna (Janet Montgomery). Having feelings for her makes his job all the more difficult. Mercier learns that the Germans are testing tanks through the Black Forrest and once again he must put himself in harms way to get the evidence.
It’s a tale of intrigue, espionage, and the dangers of love during a time of potential war!
David Tennant, playing Jean-Francois Mercier in the series talks about his role and what brought him to want to play this character.
What attracted you to SPIES OF WARSAW?
Initially the attraction came because I know Richard Fell, the executive producer and Coky Giedroyc the director. Coky from the BBC musical comedy drama BLACKPOOL and Richard from THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT, which was an extraordinary and rather terrifying live TV drama that the BBC filmed a few years ago. So getting an approach from both of them – you think OK, I’d better take this quite seriously. I’d better have a good look at this. Also, the main character seemed like quite an unusual role for me. So that was an exciting prospect too.
Were you a fan of Alan Furst, the US novelist who wrote the original book?
I have to be honest; I hadn’t come across of any of his stuff. I don’t know if people in Britain are as aware of him as they are in the States, where he’s a hugely popular author. So when the came through, I went into my local bookshop and found a shelf that was full of his novels. They are mostly wartime; espionage novels and they all hang the fiction off actual events. Sometimes even actual people. Winston Churchill’s secretary Duff Cooper is in this one, for example.
How would you describe SPIES, for the benefit of people who haven’t come across the novel?
It’s based between the First and the Second World Wars and set principally in Warsaw – although all over Europe at different times. And it’s the story of Jean-Francois Mercier, a French cultural attaché in Warsaw, who also has this clandestine professional life where he’s spying for the French on the Nazi – and anyone else who comes into view really.
And how would you describe Mercier? What’s he like?
His background is that he’s a ‘chevalier’, so he’s minor aristocracy. And he’s a military man who has been decorated and has had great successes in Poland and in France. I would say he is motivated absolutely by his duty, but also by his personal morality. I think that’s how we start to see him coming up against his superiors. Because he believes they are not treating Hitler with the respect he deserves – that actually he’s a bigger threat than anyone is willing to accept.
So at this point, war isn’t a given – people are still hoping that everything will end peacefully?
Exactly. It’s stripping back the idea that World War II was an immovable moment in time. I mean, Mercier does see war as absolutely inevitable. But he’s surrounded by people who don’t. Particularly within French intelligence – which I think is quite an accurate portrayal of what was going on at the time.
Warsaw suffered terribly in the War. How did it feel to be filming in the city where it all took place?
There’s so much resonance to what went on, because it was so graphic and ghastly. I’m not a historian, and there would be other people who are better equipped to talk about this. But as I understand it, Warsaw was utterly destroyed in the Second World War. Hitler at one point allegedly said, “Turn it into a lake”, so they did.
But you were filming in the Old Town of Warsaw – what’s that?
Well, it’s an extraordinary place. When the war ended, the people of Warsaw basically rebuilt the Old Town, brick by brick, exactly as it was. And it has been preserved ever since. It’s not a museum. There are restaurants open. People live in the apartments. People work here. But from a filming point of view it’s fantastic, because you have all these streets that are exactly as they were 70 or 80 years ago.
Has Poland rubbed off on you since you’ve been there?
I’ve been enjoying the Borscht and the Pierogi! Our caters here all supply it with great aplomb. Pierogi is like a kind of Polish ravioli. Sort of a dumpling-ish, but I think Borscht is probably my favorite. It’s beetroot soup and it’s delicious.
Have you been encountering any DOCTOR WHO fans in Poland?
A few! I didn’t realize that DOCTOR WHO plays in Poland, but it obviously does. I’ve had a few coming up to me wanting to say hello, wanting an autograph or photograph. It doesn’t happen quite on the ubiquitous scale but it happens at home. But then I don’t think I’ve been to a country yet where I haven’t been met by someone who’s a DOCTOR WHO fan. Except maybe Uganda.
Would you say that spy thrills are making a comeback?
I don’t know if they’re making a comeback, exactly. We had TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY and James Bon has always been there. I’ve never come across anything quite like SPIES OF WARSAW. Because although this is a spy story, it’s also a love story. And it’s also a historical piece. It’s quite unusual and hard to categorize. But at the end of the day it’s a gripping yarn as well. However much we like to dress it up, that’s ultimately the most important thing.
Other cast include: Marcin Dorocinski as Antoni Pakulski, Ludger Pistor as Edvard Uhl, Burn Gorman as Jourdain, Anna Elenora Jergensen as “The Countess”, Piotr Baumann as Maxim Mostov, Ellie Haddington as Madame Dupin, and Anton Lesser as Doctor Lapp.
TUBS OF POPCORN: I give SPYS OF WARSAW four tubs of popcorn out of five. What an extraordinary miniseries that is a period piece to be seen. The costuming is simply beautiful – right down to the women’s nylons with the iconic black line going down the leg.
The scenes inside café’s and parties have the era music that melts in beautifully to the scenery of chandeliers, men’s finery and beautiful crystal cut glasses. The cast carries the fears of the people of Warsaw, which lends to the realism of the story being shared. Each story line for each character is well rounded and adds such depth, which is amazing to be able to do for a miniseries.
Tennant himself does a spot on job playing Mercier. He has the chance to be charming, tough, intelligent and suave all rolled into one. Montgomery as Anna is truly beautiful and the storyline between these two is well done.
It is indeed! So listen up Tennant fans – BBC America has brought quite a treat with the mini series SPIES OF WARSAW. Take the time to see it and experience a part of history that many don’t know about with characters that are intense and worth every minute of viewing time.
SPIES OF WARSAW on BBC America will be available on DVD April 16, 2013 and Tennant fans alone should be the first in line to own this terrific series!
In the end – he saw what was coming!