Sunday, April 14, 2013

Blu Ray Review: Spies of Warsaw

Spies of Warsaw - Blu Ray – 1 Disc (180 min + Extra)
Released by BBC Home Entertainment on April 16, 2013. SRP $19.98 (DVD) $24.98 (Blu Ray)
Subtitles: English SDH 16:9 DTS HD 2.0

As I was watching some program on BBC America, I saw a promo for Spies of Warsaw. After David Tennant left Doctor Who, I have not been following his career. I saw this promo and had seen that he stars in this plus I saw some other cast members I like such as Burn Gorman and thought this might be something I would be interested in seeing but figured I wouldn’t ever get around  to watching it. This is mainly because I don’t get BBC America in HD in my area and that puts a damper on me watching anything on that channel. When BBC Home Entertainment offered up this title for review I felt this was my chance to check it out and I am glad I did.
Purchasing this title from the link above directly helps my site!
The reason I didn’t want to watch this on BBC America and why I opted to review this Blu Ray all comes down to the same reason. HD television. I don’t know if any one notices but if you have an HD plan for cable tv, Standard Definition (SD)  broadcast actually look worse than standard definition anywhere else like your DVDs. etc. It’s almost sub-standard definition which is awful to watch. Cable companied compress TV channels so much because there are so many stations that what the consumer ends up with is a very compressy lousy picture. When any production takes the opportunity to make a historical drama that goes to the trouble of making something historically accurate, I want to see it in HD.

World War II is a favorite subject of mine but I am by far no expert. There are many stories out there that have never been told. As time goes on, there will be many stories that never will be told. It’s sad to think the veterans of World War II are dying off just as the veterans of the First World War were doing back when I was young. I have tremendous respect for anyone who serves in the military but for the men who fought and died in World War II is always special to me for personal reasons. As I found with the review of Foyle’s War, there is a lot of minute details of stories that I do not know and with Spies of Warsaw, the story comes from even a more different angle than I would normally be interested in watching.
Imagine a time when people in Europe thought Adolf Hitler may have been a fanatic but would never have been so bold to enter into Poland and invade thus starting war. No one was happy with what the Nazis were doing in Germany but that was Germany. To go even further, imagine that a spy who did the proper recognizance to find out that Germany was planning on invading Poland using tanks rolling right into the country and nobody believed him. It unfathomable but that is what happens in this series.

Jean-Francios Mercier is in the military and is a spy working in Poland. He is a decorated soldier who was a war hero in the First World War.  He is following up reports about things that are happening with the Nazis. Mercier is more than a soldier but an aristocrat and with his rank he finds himself often going to parties and social events with top tier officials and high standing citizens. On one such event he brings along a date set up for him named Anna. Immediately Mercier is taken by her beauty and personality. He probably had fallen in love with her right away. Mercier was married but is now a widower. As much as Mercier has fallen for her, she is in a relationship with Russian writer and activist Maxim Mostov.
The political climate is dangerous. For example, Mostov is an activist for the Socialist cause which is dangerous; also (not for Mostov) anyone being Jewish is a concern as Nazi Germany is next door. Even some Germans who work for Nazi related causes are concerned by the direction their country is moving towards. When we meet Mercier, he is working with a circle of contacts in Warsaw to get information from Germans about the tanks, tank production, any kind of intelligence they can get their hands on for understanding what the Germans are going to do. The French and Polish military employ people to go undercover and assume new identities to try and get information. All along Mercier only wants to have Anne in his life.

I generally enjoyed this mini-series. It is two parts in which the first part ends in a nice cliffhanger. This is based on the novel by Alan Furst from 2008. Some of Furst’s other novels were Night Soldiers, Dark Stars, and Mission to Paris to name a few. This was adapted for television by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais which excited me because they are responsible for programs such as The Likely Lads, Porridge, Never Say Never Again and my absolute favorite Lovejoy. If you have never seen Lovejoy please do so soon. This is just a sliver of the total body of work they have done.
Now, I said I generally liked this. Don’t get me wrong, you are not going to confuse this with John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in terms of production. This is shot on location in Warsaw. In fact here is a translation from a Polish newspaper of the filming here. It looks really good. In some ways I thought it looked too good. Like the streets were too clean. Even though this takes place prior to World War II and prior to the fighting, I felt that even in some of the back streets were some of the action was happening, it was perhaps a little too polished? That being said, there still would have been a massive feel of authenticity missing if this were shot on the back lot of Pinewood Studios or somewhere inauthentic. There are some wonderful shots that gives us these wonderful Polish building with the high pointed roofs and has a very European feel to it.

I actually preferred the second part of the mini-series. A lot of set up happens in the first part but in the second part, the story is more woven into the fabric of actually being in Nazi Germany. Mercier actually needs sneak into there a couple of times and we get a peak of a country preparing to invade. That is what I found really interesting. Plus I am intrigued with seeing the aspect of German citizens who are torn between the country they love and Nazi influence they hate growing with more prominence. It’s powerful and a wonderful reminder that countries are often the face of their leader and government but not usually its citizens.
Then there is a question of accents. I think this is a problem that I run into every time I watch a program like this which takes place in a country that is not the UK or US. I don’t know why this bothers me, yet to me it is hugely annoying. We have David Tennant as Mercier who is playing it with a British accent. He is not using his Scottish accent which I would agree would be even more inappropriate. In fact, anyone who is French has a British accent. Colonel Pakulski who is a confidant of Mercier is Polish and has a Polish accent. The Russian Mostov has a Russian accent. These are accent but not languages. They speak to each other in their different accents and understand each other. Then we have the Nazis who speak in their German lamguage. It is very strange to me. It all seems very Kevin Costner Robin Hood to me where he had no English accent at all. I know having the French speaking with French accents may be a bit ‘Allo ‘Allo! but I feel that perhaps more of an attempt towards a slight subtle French accent would not have been out of place. I wish it didn’t bother me so much but it just does.

Perhaps why it bothers me with Tennant is that I can see so much of the Tenth Doctor in this role and he speaks the same way as the Tenth Doctor spoke. He phrases a lot of his lines as the Tenth Doctor would speak, especially in a scene early in the second part where talks about gasoline leaking from a car. I just saw the Tenth Doctor, not Mercier and to me that is a problem. Now a counter argument is that David Tennant is David Tennant. Parts of him will shine through in any performance he does but I had just seen him in an episode of Foyle’s War and I thought he was brilliant in it. The same goes for Casanova. This doesn’t mean he is not good in it. He fits the role well and physically makes the role work. It makes me happy to see him in this role that has so much going for it but to me he plays it too similar to how he played the Doctor. If any one reads this, I would love your input on it if you’ve seen it.
Janet Montgomery as Anna is captivating. She is beautiful but loyal to Mostov. She makes mistakes she regrets but is a good person and puts others before her own happiness. Pakulski is played by Marcin Dorocinski. He is loyal to Mercier and to his country. We even get Burn Gorman, Fenella Woolgar and Julian Glover in this which they are all quite wonderful.

David Tennant on Spies of Warsaw: (10:05)  It is not just David Tennant but also includes David Clement and Ian La Frenais. This is just a talking heads sort of interviews. There is really nothing of immense meat to this. It’s nice but nothing really of note.

Quality and Packaging:
The quality is a non-issue as it is HD and looks great. It is graded a little more cold in color but that seems to be intentional and kind of gives an underlying bleakness to the production. I don’t think any of the colors could be considered lush.

The cover is interesting as it has a sort of action movie feel to it; almost a motion picture feel to it. The UK release (which is a DVD only)  is a little more straightforward. To be honest, I prefer the US Blu Ray cover which is not over-designed but yet evokes some excitement which is in the series. It fits.
I don’t do ratings or scales for reviews. There is nothing clever like giving this 3 out of five Captain Mainwarings or anything silly like that. All I do is ask myself if I would ever want to sit down and watch this again. The answer to this is simply yes. I enjoyed it and I feel when I do watch it again, there will be stuff I missed and will pick up this time around. It’s worth checking and if you are a David Tennant fan then this is a must!

Next review: Still much to get to and I took a little break. I started to get antsy and now I am back. There should be more articles published soon. I can’t wait to give my fingers a work out!
Have a great week!

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