Sundance Channel, best known for its documentaries and other unscripted fare, is about to present a deliciously suspenseful spy thriller that signals a new initiative for the network: more drama.
“Restless,” a two-part miniseries that begins at 9 p.m. Friday, would be an attention-getter if for no other reason than its blue-chip cast. There’s Hayley Atwell (“Cassandra’s Dream,” “Captain America: The First Avenger”) along with veteran thespians Michael Gambon and Charlotte Rampling, as well as Rufus Sewell (“The Pillars of the Earth”), who’s the very definition of a dashing leading man. Plus Michelle Dockery, whose return next month as Lady Mary Crawley is eagerly awaited by all “Downton Abbey” fans.
But there is more to recommend “Restless” than its fine troupe of actors.
Based on the best-selling novel by William Boyd, it weaves a double strand of intrigue set at the eve of World War II and in the 1970s.
It’s a cloak-and-dagger saga chock-full of suspicion.
“Never trust anyone, ever. Especially not me,” cautions Lucas Romer (Mr. Sewell), a shadowy and seductive British agent who has recruited young Eva Delectorskaya (Miss Atwell) for his mission to draw the United States into the war effort to aid Britain.
“I would never trust you,” Eva replies.
“You learn quickly,” says Romer.
The film begins in 1976 with Ruth Gilmartin (Miss Dockery), a defiantly independent single mother and budding academic who is shocked to learn that the mother she has always known as Sally Gilmartin is actually former spy Eva Delectorskaya.
After decades living quietly under the radar, Eva (Miss Rampling) fears her cover has been blown and that her life is in danger. She turns to her daughter to help flush out the elusive Romer and ensure her safety.
The story, dense and brooding, intercuts between its dual time frames. Young Eva, an unsuspecting Russian emigre in prewar Paris, transforms herself into a skilled secret agent with a new identity, a perilous objective (and, by the way, a steamy romance). A generation later, Ruth is being drafted to explore her mother’s past while stewing over existential doubts: Can you ever really know anyone, even your own mother, when the all-too-routine human tendency is to seek safe refuge behind secrecy and falsehoods?
“Don’t look so perplexed, my love,” Eva tells her daughter. “We all have secrets. Everyone. No one knows even half the truth about anybody else, not even when we’re very close.”
“Restless” has a restless, noir murkiness about it. But even with the thrumming air of paranoia that powers it, the film boasts a corresponding stylishness, whether it’s Ruth’s circa-‘70s bell bottoms or young Eva’s 1940s cosmopolitan chic.
“Restless” spins a smart, rich yarn and, even if its conclusion is a bit labored (by then, there are many strands to untangle), the film delivers a satisfying twist.
Meanwhile, it represents a new thrust for Sundance: more scripted productions.
“I feel like there is a distinct space that Sundance Channel can carve out within the growing trend of tremendous scripted drama we’re seeing,” declares Sundance General Manager Sarah Barnett.
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