Thursday, 27 December 2012

Restless: TV review

Restless, a BBC TV two-parter which began this evening is based on a novel by William Boyd, and benefits from a marvellous cast, including Hayley Atwell, recently impressive in Falcon, as well as the eternally entrancing Charlotte Rampling. Add in (among others) the excellent Rufus Sewell and the magnificent Michael Gambon, and you were almost guaranteed something watchable.

And Restless certainly was watchable. Even its sedate pace (perhaps a total of three hours is more than strictly necessary to tell the story?) was fairly appealing. So were the various scenes in Cambridge, one of the most photogenic of cities. It's also a city associated with spies, of course, and Rampling played Eva, who in the 1970s reveals to her daughter that she has another identity; the woman her daughter knows was created when Eva was persuaded to join a branch of British Intelligence at the start of the Second World War.

There are two stories: first, what happened to young Eva (Hayley Atwell) during her career in espionage, and second, what happens to Eva in later life.Tension in the latter story-line builds because Eva is convinced that someone is out to kill her. Why this would be, after so many years, is the great mystery of Restless. I'm hoping for a strong and convincing explanation.

Although I have never been tempted to write a spy story, I do rather enjoy them, if they are well written. Spies trade in secrets, and secrets are always interesting. I used to enjoy Michael Gilbert' spy novels, and his stories about Calder and Behrens, for instance; they deserve to be better known. I haven't read Boyd's book, but the screenplay has me engaged, and I'll be watching episode two for sure.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I am quite surprised it was on here before there. Lots of fun.

Sarah said...

I always enjoy your TV reviews Martin but as I'm hopeless at watching things on tv the night they're broadcast, I am rarely able to comment. However, I did watch this last night and like you enjoyed it.
I'm a fan of William Boyd's books but 'Restless' is I think his best. Part 2 will be the key of this adaptation as the book had a strong sense of urgency that made it unputdownabale in the final few chapters. I enjoyed watching the first part and was happy to ignore the small changes they had made from the book. The casting I thought was excellent.
I like well written historical spy stores. Alan Furst (whose Spies of Warsaw is being shown on BBC4 on the 9th Jan) and Aly Monroe are very good contemporary writers of the genre I think .

Puzzle Doctor said...

Very curious to see what you thought of the end of the story... I enjoyed most of it but there was a real "is that it?" feeling when all was done.

Unknown said...

This was gripping and kept my attention to the closing credits. But I'm not sure Michelle Dockery was entirely convincing as the 70s counter culture student whose ex had connections with Baader-Meinhof. She was still the posh lady from Downton. And there were questions from part one not resolved in part two - was anyone actually trying to kill the elderly Eva Delectorskaya? What was the significance, if any, of her daughter's research on German anarchism? Or of her rather creepy supervisor? It looked at one point that his interest in the activities of the secret service was more than purely acadcemic. Despite the slightly slow pace at times these questions aren't anaswered. But definitely the best TV over the Christmas period.

Martin Edwards said...

Many thanks for your comments. More from me when I catch up with episode two!

Sarah said...

Hope you don't mind me chipping in again. Re Larry's comments, many of the issues he raises were deliberately left open in the book. It's not clear if Eva is actually being watched although I think it was clearer that her daughter's tutor was connected to the Cambridge MI6 'network'. I don't mind issues not being resolved in fiction and as you say, it still made good tv.

I don't like the fact that in part 2, Eva tries to kill Lucas. In the book she escapes to Canada and never sees him again until the 1970s. I can't see what the addition of air raid and her attempt to flush him out in 1941 added to the plot.

But still enjoyable and given that I've avoided the juggernaut that is Downton Abbey I didn't recognise many of the cast members ;-).

Martin Edwards said...

Right, I've now watched episode two. I did enjoy it, but I found the very last scene surprisingly anti-climactic. It made me think Eva had become paranoid, which was not really what I wanted to think.
Sarah, I agree those additional scenes seemed unnecessary and perhaps inappropriate to the story.
Overall, very good, though I suspect the book is better.