fri 12/07/2024

Restless, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Restless, BBC One

Restless, BBC One

For all its ominous music, William Boyd's adaptation of his World War II espionage novel failed to convince

Hayley Atwell as the impossibly glamorous spy Eva DelectorskayaCredit: BBC/Endor Production. Photos by Casey Crafford

William Boyd wrote the screenplay for this adaptation of his 2006 espionage novel, and since it’s integral to the whole he retained its two-part structure. The first concerns the World War II activities of former British intelligence spy Eva Delectorskaya, the second, set in 1976, concerns her efforts to lay the past to rest. Not only has the past cast a dark shadow over her life but it continues to endanger it. For this she enlists the help of her daughter.

Yet if you’ve read the book, the most compelling parts concern the daughter and the contemporary political events that intrude upon her world. You sense this is because Boyd has experienced the Seventies at first hand, hence the decade comes alive in a way that Delectorskaya's war doesn't. Yet those are the details Boyd dispensed with.

Atwell goes about her dangerous, secret missions in dusty New Mexican outposts looking like a Dior mannequin

A novel on the page and a telly adaption are, of course, two very different beasts. Boyd is an old hand at adapting his own work for film and TV, but what we were left with in this two-part adaptation of Restless, directed by Spooks director Edward Hall, felt a bit clunky, certainly very clichéd, and more than a touch absurd as a tale of espionage. This is partly the fault of the book. Boyd is no John le Carré and the story, with its made-up spy argot and its perfunctory training drills, doesn't really ring true, even if they’re as close to the real thing as you can get.

One problem is that Hayley Atwell’s spy is impossibly, ridiculously glamorous. One is led to believe that the first rule of spying is that you need to blend into the crowd, yet Atwell goes about her dangerous, secret missions in dusty New Mexican outposts looking like a Dior mannequin, though thankfully her acting isn’t as stiff. So is there a reason for this over-the-top glamour other than to capture a period feel which in itself feels thoroughly inauthentic? It does strike an odd note when everyone else can be seen galloping around in sensible shoes.   

Michael Gambon as Lucas Romer in RestlessAnd then there is the problem of names. This isn’t a problem with the adaption, of course, but with its source. Are we really to believe that the sexy, nay delectable, Russian spy, who later goes by the dowdy name of Sally Gilmartin, is really called Eva Delectorskaya? This may be a Boydian joke, but Boyd’s work appears to lack too much of a sense of humour to carry it off. It has trouble carrying any of it off.

Restless had its usual top-notch BBC drama cast, and they were all perfectly watchable. Charlotte Rampling played the Atwell character three decades on, Rufus Sewell and Michael Gambon (pictured above right) were Delectorskaya’s spymaster – Gambon, as Lucas Romer, now at the heart of the establishment as a member of the House of Lords but harbouring a terrible secret that he’s understandably keen to go on protecting. And Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery played Ruth, the daughter who knew nothing of her mother’s previous life. Little of the psychology of these characters seemed to rouse our interest, even less was it explored. This seems a shame, since this is what might interest us most, either in real life or in a contemporary espionage fiction. 

One final thing that palled was the music, an ominous soundtrack that went thunderously into overdrive to take the place of any genuine dramatic tension. This was particularly notable at the end, when you were being led to expect something dreadful. There’s a subtle art to deflecting expectation in order to provide relief or fresh insight. This really didn’t deliver it.

Boyd is no le Carré and the story, with its made-up argot and its perfunctory training drills, doesn't convince

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I have to disagree with your review. I thought Restless was the best thing I've seen all Christmas. Well made, well acted and well written. I enjoyed every minute. The only unintentional hilarity was the huge amount of heather in the 'American desert'. Overall, rather brill.

I totally agree with your comment, I loved it, it was well written, well acted and well directed. I would like to know more about that period when Churchill ran a department of dirty tricks to bring the Americans in to the War. I thought it as riveting as Homeland which is saying something. Slight quibble young Eva had brown eyes, old Sally blue eyes,

Actually, the program was quite a bit better quality than your review.

Unlike the above, I reckon Fisun's got this spot on - she may even be being too kind to it, as for my money it's possibly the most unconvincing 'spy' drama I've ever seen. I like Haley Atwell but jeez, come on, did she ever convince you she was their 'top agent' ? As for the music, Lorne Balfe needs to do her homework or watch more Scandinavian noir to see (or hear) how it's really done.

Have an opposite view to this review - thought it was really well done - maybe thesecond half was a bit weaker than the first, also the review's negative interpretation of glamour in Mexico being out of place, worked well for me perfectly - think she (the reviewer) probably in future needs to suspend some basic assumptions about drama - it does not always need to be an exact fit of reality.

It was brilliant. Compelling, gripping, entertaining. Simply one of the best dramas I've ever watched whether on stage, in film or on television. Congratulations to all concerned. One really does wonder what on earth the reviewer is looking for.

I thought the first part was a bit ho-hum, but worth watching for the quality of the acting and cinematography. But only a short way into Part 2 I was totally hooked. Ok, I have to agree that characters weren't explored very deeply but surely, that wasn't the point? This was a John Buchan-type thriller, with chases, traitors, double agents, and no little suspense as we were led to a dénouement that was ... well, perhaps not quite as good as the action that preceded it (couldn't we have guessed the 'Russian spy' bit quite easily?), but was nevertheless satisfying. If you wanted simple-to-follow but exciting action thriller as post-Xmas fare, this was absolutely fine.

Full Complaint: The BBC on Channel One featured a splendid two part drama called Restless - it concluded last night. This period drama is nothing other than a tobacco add which I thought had been banned; in fact in yesterdays news I note, the government is campaigning again against smoking cigarettes, using a most graphic image of tumours actually growing out of the cigarette as it is being smoked. How cunning to see this drama's seductive attempts to keep our youth smoking. Those stunning cigarette lighters with that clunk click! The deep pull on a cigarette as it glows in the dark. Those great cigarette cases which you tapped your Fag on before lighting up. Sharing a smoke - every scene had people lighting up! All this and more of the same was featured in this BBC drama. Period drama needs reality I am told, but you could hardly see through the haze of smoke to really enjoy the skills of the cameraman. Your involvement with tobacco companies is beyond belief. How can you not see what you are doing showing this drama to viewers. Of course the odd smoker is acceptable but smoking was all over this programme. Laughable when you see how much smoking occurred - yet it is no laughing matter. Why are you allowing this?

Don't be fanatical - everyone smoked liked chimneys during the war years (and very many in 1976); soldiers were sent fags in Xmas boxes. That may have been the only realistic part of the whole thing.

Perhaps everyone in those days didn't smoke. Like all went to their weddings virgins. God help us!

I suffer from COPD and quite severe breathlessness and had no problem with this at all. You come across as prissy and self righteous, all the things I hate in a post.

I guess I was the only one bothered by all the heavy breathing generously sprinkled throughout both episodes. Or maybe this is the signature of BBC drama I should get used to.

Absolutely! I found the heavy breathing very silly and annoying too.

Apart from the lack of tension at the end, the next annoying thing for me was that Charlotte Rampling has blue eyes and Hayley Atwell playing the same character has obviously big, dark brown eyes. Maybe the casting people thought no-one would notice or that it could pass as a cunning disguise.

Congratulations to the BBC - this was the best drama over Christmas. Please continue to make some more drama's like this because for the past few years Christmas viewing has been terrible.

I think your review rubbishes it more than it deserves. Having said that I was sorely disappointed. The book is absolutely brilliant and, although I know that the filmed version 'is never as good,' sometimes, just sometimes, it is jolly good. Unfortunately, this cannot be said of the Beeb's dramatization. I think William Boyd's 'Restless' is so good is deserves a better tv dramatization. I can't believe Mr Boyd did it himself; well, there you go, what do I know? It was such a shame that Ruth's life was left out and Eva's recruitment and other parts of the book was summarized to such a degree and many parts were just plain omitted. It all added to the richness and brilliance of the original novel and it was just plain missing from the tv version. I have a quibble too. I haven't double checked my copy of the novel, but I have absolutely no memory of Eva murdering Alfie in his flat. In the book she got on a bus, some considerable time later, having spent a year working as a secretary in Canada, and sat behind him. She found out what had happened to the others (all now dead). Going to his flat didn't make sense because she would have known that this would endanger his life as they were all being 'rolled up;' Eve/Eva would have been seeking to protect him. My following quibble is a detail, but I'm going to mention it because it irritated me: in the book Sally drank tea, she didn't knock back the wine the way Charlotte Rampling's Sally was doing. This was significant because when Ruth read her mother's account of her life as Eva/Eve she discovered that her mother drank and smoked a lot as a young women in the 1940s, and for Ruth it was another example of the shock of reconciling her mother's past identity she never knew with the mother she thought she knew.

Have just caught up with the first episode on iPlayer and I am totally hooked, guess that's why I had to look up reviews before I watch the second episode. Am glad am not the only one who doesn't think much of this review, buy hey ho, guess each to their own!!

I don't think much of this review.I thoroughly enjoyed Restless from start to finish.

I agree with the review - the plot was thin and at times I thought I was watching an Acorn Antiques spy episode. Totally unbelivable and truly incredible !!

Why does this reviewer find the name Delektorskaya so ridiculous or a joke? Matisse's Russian muse was called Lydia Delektorskaya. Boyd's homage to a great partnership

I wish there had been silence instead of music on several dire stretches of soundtrack. It unsatisfying because it is never explained what logic the extremely mentally proficient Sally would follow in expecting her play on Lord Romer to result in more safety for her, her daughter and her grandson. And what was the point of introducing the encounter between Ruth and her ex?

Totally agree, besides the continuity mistakes and many holes in the story, for a spy, she asked her colleagues a lot of silly questions. Who is Mr X? Where is the boss of British Intelligence today, Washington? Why are we going to Belgium/USA/Holland etc. Usually in a crowded public place during wartime. Ring three times and hang up. Then ring again. But the phones probably bugged so it doesnt matter. Or she was told not to trust anyone, including her boss, who, surprisingly ends up being a traitor. Its a miracle we were on the winning side! When are TV networks/companies going to employ better writers?

The glaring hole in the plot seemed to me to be the unexplained gap of 30 years, why would it take Lucas 30 years to find Sally and why would she not know where he was when it took 5 minutes for her daughter to find him? He was after all using his own name in a reasonably high profile position for a supposed recluse. I also find it hard to believe that the gorgeous Rufus Sewell (Much better in his role as Zen) could possibly morph in to Michael Gambon. The plot was so predictable I hardly needed to watch part two.

It was full of holes! How did Sally manage to smuggle that huge shotgun into his house at the end. It just appeared from nowhere.

Congratulations BBC - Outstanding- Totally hooked. Exactly what I pay my licence for.

I loved it - it was the best drama on TV. Alright there were some oddities ie the female spy saying , 'No pressure.' Too modern. The smoking and drinking were spot on for the forties. I was waiting for a follow up to the Bader Meinhoff ex husband. I will have to read the novel - I love William Boyd's stuff after being gripped by Any Human Heart

What a breath of fresh air to have a two part spy thriller, Restless. The BBC at its best. On the air of Tinker, Tailor. We need more of this type of story line. Please pass on my compliments to the all involved. more! More!

it was absolutely predictable. for a spy-thriller to work there needs to be at least one unexpected twist. it was clear all along that the sleazy british guy with the mustache was a double agent. no tension whatsoever. as for the embarrassing crescendo of music at the end, the producers are probably hoping to string this sad mess into a mini-series in which some friends of the traitorous earl come after michelle dockery - and there's some absurd link to her son's father and the baader meinhoff gang to spare us and leave dockery on the no less melodramatic but slightly more credible set of downton abbey

Finally caught up with Restless. There were certainly some implausibilities and discrepancies in the story, but I thought it was very stylishly done as a whole with plenty of suspense. And there was a psychological dimension there too, about never really knowing or being able to trust another person, and the way Eva will never feel safe so will always be on her guard, or 'restless' - Romer didn't find her, it was her own paranoia, which made her go looking for him. Shame that Ruth's own story in the 70s is cut back so much but that was inevitable for a two-part TV drama that packed a lot in and did justice to the book. .

I personally loved it. Well done to everyone concerned. BBC are the masters when it comes to drama.

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