Spies of Warsaw starring David Tennant and Janet Montgomery premieres April 3 on BBC America
I think it looks terrific. We were both knocked out by it. It looks really rich and moody. It’s got the period detail just right. It’s got everything, really."Dick Clement, screenwriter
Adapted by renowned Emmy®-winning writing team Dick Clement (Across the Universe, Tracey Takes On…) and Ian La Frenais (Across the Universe, Tracey Takes On…) and executive produced by Richard Fell (Outcasts), Spies of Warsaw is based on New York Times Bestselling author Alan Furst’s acclaimed novel. David Tennant (Broadchurch, Doctor Who, Fright Night, Hamlet) and Janet Montgomery (Made in Jersey, Black Swan, Entourage) star in the thrilling spy story set in Poland, Paris and London in the years leading up to the Second World War. Spies of Warsaw premieres over two nights - Wednesday, April 3, 9:00pm ET and Wednesday, April 10, 9:00pm ET - as part of BBC AMERICA’s Dramaville programming block.
The drama finds French and German intelligence operatives locked in a life-and-death struggle. At the French embassy, the new military attaché, Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier (Tennant), a decorated hero of the 1914 war, is drawn into a world of abduction, betrayal and intrigue in the diplomatic salons and back alleys of Warsaw.
At the same time, the handsome aristocrat finds himself in a passionate love affair with Anna (Montgomery), a Parisian lawyer for the League of Nations. Their complicated love affair intensifies as German tanks drive through the Black Forest.
Spies of Warsaw combines historical, intelligent narratives, interlaced with flawed, romantic and compelling characters. Spanning the decade from 1933 to 1943, as the Germans slowly consolidate their political stranglehold on Europe, Furst’s stories are portraits of subjugated peoples who try to resist the suffocating inevitability of Hitler’s regime. They show the potency and importance of espionage and pure intelligence in the run up to the war.
Executive produced by Richard Fell for Fresh Pictures and Chris Aird for the BBC, Spies of Warsaw is co-produced by Apple Film for TV Poland and co-produced by BBC AMERICA in association with ARTE FRANCE and BBC Worldwide.
Spies of Warsaw is the latest co-production to join BBC AMERICA’s stable of compelling programming including the award-winning Dramaville series Luther, The Hour, new co-production dramas Ripper Street, Fleming (W/T), Musketeers, upcoming David Tennant drama Broadchurch and original dramas COPPER and Orphan Black.
Spies of Warsaw will be available on Blu-Ray with bonus UltraViolet copy, and DVD on April 16, 2013.
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CAST AND PRODUCTION CREDITS
Jean-Francois Mercier David Tennant (Broadchurch, Doctor Who, Fright Night, Hamlet)
Anna Skarbek Janet Montgomery (Made in Jersey, Black Swan, Entourage)
Antoni Pakulski Marcin Dorocinski (Pitbull)
Edvard Uhl Ludger Pistor (Casino Royale)
Jourdain Burn Gorman (Torchwood, The Dark Knight Rises)
‘The Countess’ / Olga Musser Ann Eleonora Jørgensen (The Killing)
Maxim Mostov Piotr Baumann (The Street)
Marek Miroslaw Zbrojewicz (Boys Don’t Cry)
Madame Dupin Ellie Haddington (Creation)
Gabrielle Tuppence Middleton (New Tricks)
Doctor Lapp Anton Lesser (Dramaville’s The Hour)
Julius Halbach Adam Godley (Charlie And The Chocolate Factory)
Johannes Elter Nicholas Murchie (Blue Murder)
Trudl Mel Giedroyc (Sadie J)
Colonel Lessard Richard Lintern (Dramaville’s White Heat)
General Beauvilliers Julian Glover (Game of Thrones)
Lady Angela Hope Fenella Woolgar (Jekyll)
Roddy Fitzware Richard Teverson (Upstairs Downstairs)
Princess Ewa Magda Poplawska
Zoller Jan Pohl (Captain America: The First Avenger)
August Voss Rad Kaim (Harry Brown)
Malka Rozen Linda Bassett (The Hours)
Viktor Rozen Alan Corduner (Da Vinci’s Demons)
Helena Skarbek Tusse Silberg (Drop The Dead Donkey)
Duff Cooper Julian Harries (EastEnders)
Written by Dick Clement (Across the Universe, Tracey Takes On…)
Ian La Frenais (Across the Universe, Tracey Takes On…)
Executive producers Richard Fell
Spies of Warsaw is a Fresh Pictures production, co-produced by BBC AMERICA, Apple Film for TV Poland in association with ARTE FRANCE and BBC Worldwide.
WRITERS DICK CLEMENT AND IAN LA FRENAIS
How did you originally come across Alan Furst and his series of novels?
Dick: Ian gave me one of his books and it happened to be Spies of Warsaw. I had never read Alan Furst at that point. But, as a result, I went out and read them all. I had a binge. Read the lot.
How involved has Alan been with the adaptation?
Dick: We’ve been in touch with him a lot. Though when we asked him recently if he would like to see the scripts he said, “Not really – I know that you have to change things when you switch from a novel to the screen, and I trust you.” So that was very nice. We also sent him some stills from filming, and I think those really whetted his appetite.
Does the film live up to the idea that you originally had in your heads?
Dick: I think it looks terrific. We were both knocked out by it. It looks really rich and moody. It’s got the period detail just right. It’s got everything, really. I think Alan will love it.
What was it that attracted you to Spies of Warsaw, in particular?
Ian: The period really intrigued us. It really is another world. A world of apprehension. And a different Europe to that which any of us are familiar with. I mean, you look at the maps in Alan’s novels and they have all these countries that don’t even exist anymore.
Dick: We particularly love this pre-War period because it’s rarely covered in films.
And what do you make of the story’s hero, Jean-Francois Mercier?
Dick: Well Alan feels that the whole secret to Mercier is that he’s a French aristocrat. This idea that he’s a ‘chevalier’ and that he comes from a family of chevaliers – there’s a difference of attitude about him, I think, and we talked to David [Tennant] about that before he started filming. It’s that thing of coming from money. And with a sense of honor. He’s a gentleman, and I think there’s a romantic, slightly old fashioned quality about that which makes him very appealing to modern audiences.
It’s a very different role for David, isn’t it...
Ian: Yeah – you really see that on film.
Dick: He’s quite tough, too. There are several scenes where he has to be really quite steely, and he does that very well. It’s very believable. David takes his job very seriously, and that’s important because his character is far more concerned with the upcoming war than a lot of the other people around him who are saying, “Oh come on, it’s not going to happen...”
Your previous projects have generally been set in the modern day. How did you find writing for the 1930s period?
Ian: Well, you have to remove the anachronisms; we never say “dude” in these scripts [laughing]. But seriously, modern words can easily slip by. “OK,” for example. Something that simple. Or “I’m on it...” Dick: We certainly wanted the dialogue to seem as natural as it can possibly be. Whatever the period, you’re always trying to create something that feels easy for the actors to say, and for modern audiences to listen to.
Ian: But of course people did talk in a slightly more foreign way in the 1930s. I mean, the conversation between a man and woman who had just met for the first time would be more formal than it is now. There was more propriety in men’s approach to women. Obviously if the dialogue sounds too stilted, it will damage everything. But of course these actors are so good, too – they can make it all sound like conversation.
There seems to be a vogue for spy thrillers at the moment. Do you think that says something about the times we’re living through?
Dick: I think it might do. I certainly hope so. People suddenly seem to be more into this period than they were.
Ian: Yes, there seems to be a wonderful nostalgia now among the public and novelists for the Cold War and so on. I think real spies must feel that things were so simple in the old days. So much simpler than the enemy you face now, in the ‘War on Terror’. And of course the technology is so different.
Dick: No computers, no cell phones...
Ian: There isn’t a cell phone in sight!
Dick: I hate those endings to movies where everyone’s hitting the computer keys, trying to get the bank transfer before somebody blows somebody else’s head off. They’re really not very sexy, computers, for that kind of thing. Going a bit further back in time is much more appealing.
Could you imagine returning to this world for future adaptations?
Ian: We would love to do more – although Mercier isn’t in any of the other novels. Alan Furst tends to use different heroes in different novels. That’s just his way.
Dick: So we might be forced to write a sequel to this, taking it on without Alan Furst’s help. Because we leave Mercier at the beginning of the Second World War. We haven’t covered wartime in this one whatsoever.
Ian: So it’s a question of whether we do ‘the further adventures of Colonel Mercier’, or whether we go on to make other films in the Spies brand – Spies of Budapest and so on. It would be nice to put a sort of seal on it, so that audiences could think, “Ooh, good, THAT’S coming back...”
DAVID TENNANT PLAYS JEAN-FRANCOIS MERCIER
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 kind of 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 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 this 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 Nazis – 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. And I think that’s how we start to see him coming up against his own 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 want 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 out here?
I’ve been enjoying the Borscht and the Pierogi! Our caterers here all supply it with great aplomb. Pierogi is like a kind of Polish ravioli. Sort of dumpling-ish. But I think Borscht is probably my favorite. It’s beetroot soup. 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, maybe wanting a photograph or a signature. It doesn’t happen quite on the ubiquitous scale that 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 thrillers are making a comeback?
I don’t know if they’re making a comeback, exactly. We had Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy recently. And James Bond has always been there. But 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. And however much we like to dress it up, that’s ultimately the most important thing.
JANET MONTGOMERY PLAYS ANNA SKARBEK
What attracted you to Spies Of Warsaw?
For me, it was the fact that it gives us a totally different perspective on World War II. Yes, it’s a spy thriller – and of course Alan Furst has created a fictional group of characters here – but there’s also a lot in this drama that’s factual, that many people might not know about. The idea that there were spies working out of Poland who had a major impact on the War, the fact that Polish people suffered so much during the War... It was just a story that I wanted to be involved in telling.
Who is Anna Skarbek? How would you describe her?
Anna is a young, very intelligent woman who works for the League of Nations, which was like the United Nations of its day. She’s a lawyer. She’s quite womanly. Quite seductive, I suppose. She can be quite flirty, but in such a confident, ungirly way, because she is so smart. She has that Helen Mirren-style, mature confidence that women sometimes have, but in a fairly young woman.
How does she first meet David’s character, Mercier?
Mercier is going to this party and he needs someone to go along with him. And he ends up taking Anna after a friend sets them up, though they’ve never met. They’re attracted to each other fairly instantly. But she fights it because she’s in a relationship with another man, Maxim Mostov [played by Piotr Baumann].
What does she see in Mercier?
I think she finds her soul mate in him. They have a connection; the sort of thing you can’t explain unless you’ve had it with someone yourself. It’s one of those ‘we were made for each other’ moments, I guess. But I can see the attraction that she has to Max, as well. He’s a bit older. He’s opinionated. I think when they first met he must have given her a lot of confidence in her own opinions. And I think the demise of their relationship is very painful for Anna. She’s torn. She’s in love with Mercier. But she loves Max in a different way.
Can Anna be trusted, though?
Well that’s one of the things I love about Spies of Warsaw. Because it’s a spy thriller, you don’t know what her intentions are. You don’t know what Mercier’s intentions are. I think at this point, just before the War, everybody felt like that about each other. You don’t know who you can trust.
Did you know much about this period of history?
Not really. When I learned about the Second World War in school, I learned about it from Britain’s point of view. Which was often what was going on in Britain whilst the War was happening – things like rationing, people’s husbands heading off to war and so on. But Warsaw of course was right in the thick of it. Just a small percentage of Warsaw survived the War. It’s astonishing, really.
Did you do any historical research for the part before you took it on?
I did. In fact of all the projects I have worked on, this is probably the one that I’ve had to do the most research for. I had a few days off before filming began, so I got a train to Krakow, hired a car and went out to visit Auschwitz. I cried the whole time I was there. I’d never seen anything like it.
Did the visit change the way you felt about the drama in any way?
Absolutely. The majority of the story is set within Warsaw, which is under the lingering threat of war. Of course I knew about World War II, but I wanted to go somewhere that would allow me to see what the consequences were for ordinary people – what being captured might result in; what war results in. I’m glad that I made the visit. I don’t think I would have been able to fully grasp what went on without it.
You’re British, but much of your recent TV and film work (Entourage, Human Target, Black Swan) has taken place in the States. Where do you call home?
Right now I’m based in LA but my family are in Bournemouth, England, so I often go back home to stay with them. I also have some very good friends in London who put me up when I’m shooting there.
Apparently Americans often tend to mistake you for an American?
A lot of them do, yeah! I get that quite a lot. Which I’m obviously flattered about because, hopefully, it means that I’m doing a good job playing them!
Is it true that you started out as a dancer?
Yes! I had a strange sort of introduction to acting. I trained as a dancer at the Stella Mann Dance College in Bedford, England, where I studied everything from ballet and tap to jazz. While I was there, I realized that I probably didn’t want to do it professionally. After leaving, I couldn’t get an acting agent because I hadn’t been to drama school. But then I produced a play with my friend Gethin Anthony, who is now in Game of Thrones. And I was lucky enough to get an agent through that.
Alan Furst has written other novels involving Spies Of Warsaw characters. Would you be up for filming more?
Definitely! I’d love that. Alan has written many different novels. And of course Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, the writers who adapted Spies, have such an incredible track record, from TV shows like Porridge to films like The Commitments. I hope they would want to write more for us.
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