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During China's Tang dynasty the emperor has taken the princess of a neighboring province as wife. She has borne him two sons and raised his eldest. Now his control over his dominion is complete, including the royal family itself.
Spies of Warsaw (BBC Four) was probably meant for BBC1, but then someone at the BBC sat down and watched it.
As we know, it's not currently very fashionable for BBC executives to take an interest in BBC programmes, but on this occasion it's just as well one of them looked at it before making the mistake of showing it to a larger audience.
Adapted by the usually brilliant Dick Clement and Ian la Frenais from a novel by Alan Furst, the first episode was actually only about ninety minutes long. It felt, however, like it was on the air for about 12 weeks.
Even in the first ten minutes one could have timed the action by calendar. Sorry, did I use the word, "action"? Slip of the pen. At one point, near the end of the episode, I found myself asking the question, "Is this still on?"
It's difficult to say what happened, the plot being revealed at such a painfully leisurely pace.
The gist of it appeared to be that David Tennant a French spy in bright red pantaloons with stripes down the side fell very slowly in love with Janet Montgomery, the mistress of a dull, whiskered Russian exile.
Then we were very slowly introduced to a mysterious Countess, who very slowly turned out not to be a Countess, and was then very slowly strangled by some Nazis.
Oh, there was a brasserie with a bullet-hole in the mirror above table 14. I think this might have been significant in some way. Or maybe it wasn't.
There was certainly great attention to period detail, which helped to slow down the action even more. Then there was the usual confusion when it came to who should speak with which accent. The Nazis spoke in German with subtitles in English. The Polish spoke English with Polish accents. The French spoke English with 'Allo 'Allo accents. Everyone spoke very, very, slowly indeed.
Tennant was wasted as the enigmatic, complex and conflicted Mercier. He doesn't really do enigmatic and complex, does he? He does quirky and eccentric. About twenty minutes in, he had a stab at being deep and conflicted, but all we really wanted was to see him whip out his sonic screwdriver and pull one of his funny faces.
Did I mention that it was quite slow? I still have episode two of Spies of Warsaw on my TIVO. I think it's going to be there for a very, very long time.
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