Spies bring us in from cold

JANE CLIFTON
Last updated 10:36 20/06/2013
Restless

SPY SWITCH: Hayley Atwell plays a young woman recruited by British intelligence in Restless, set in World War II and the 70s.

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It's amazing how some of the best television drama remains engrossing, despite the fact that the viewer doesn't have the foggiest what's actually going on for much of the time.

Monday's new SoHo spy drama Restless is opaque from start to finish, but in the crisp, elegant tradition of British espionage tales, the style carries us over the mystery of substance.

Author William Boyd has adapted this two-parter from his own novel, so the most fascinating bits, dramatising the training wartime spies underwent, is given due weight in the story. Our heroine is Eva (Hayley Atwell), a young woman in France recruited by British intelligence.

She is sent on a disjointed-seeming series of missions in which disquieting, but seemingly unrelated things, occur, leading the viewer, and rather belatedly Eva herself, to suspect that her spy master, Romer - a saturninely moustachioed Rufus Sewell - is running a second agenda.

The story deftly switches from WWII to the 1970s, where Eva, now known as Sally - and played by the still sinuously elegant Charlotte Rampling - believes she is being hunted by sinister forces because of buried secrets from her spy past.

Her daughter Ruth (Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey) is initially as incredulous as the viewer about this. But Ruth is prevailed upon to track down Romer - his senior version played with rheumy-eyed smarm by Michael Gambon - to see if she can flush out the truth.

At this point it seems not impossible that dear old Eva/Sally is simply going gaga. But, then again, there really is a strange person lurking in her garden. And in any case, the story, with its predator-prey switches through time and place, whips along so convincingly that - despite the fact that it lacks a certain le Carre-ish authenticity - no-one is likely to mind if it turns out the lurker is just an over- zealous TV licence inspector.

Aside from the rich period detail, the story's greatest pleasure comes from the maturing of Eva from a bright-eyed, trusting young woman to a canny field operative, contrasted with her reduction to a panicky senior citizen - though one who still shows flashes of survivalist steel.

Restless is as reliable a treat as you'll find on the box at the moment.

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- The Dominion Post

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