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'Spies of Warsaw' review: It's no 'Masterpiece'

Mercier (David Tennant) in in BBC America's

Mercier (David Tennant) in in BBC America's "Spies of Warsaw." Photo Credit: Handout

MINISERIES "Spies of Warsaw"

WHEN | WHERE Wednesday night and April 10, 9-11 p.m. on BBC America

REASON TO WATCH Doctor Who and a "Jersey" mouthpiece in Nazi intrigue.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Translation: Two British actors -- ex-"Doctor Who" star David Tennant and ex-"Made in Jersey" attorney Janet Montgomery -- are in 1937's prewar Poland, being French. He's Col. Jean-Francois Mercier, a military attaché, she's Anna Skarbek, an attorney for the League of Nations. (If you dozed through history class, that's the ineffectual United Nations precursor between the two World Wars.)

But really, he's a secret agent who just knows those Germans and Russians are up to no good. "One's east, one's west, both of them mean to crush Poland like a walnut," declares Mercier's local connection. So Mercier lures an entire orbit of citizens into the "cloak and dagger" of sleeping with the enemy, stealing tank plans, crossing barbed-wire borders and, in the case of Skarbek, succumbing to his own romantic charms.

MY SAY Romantic? Never have Tennant's dark eyes seemed so vacant. Not that Montgomery, who was at least Jersey-strong in last fall's CBS quickly canceled show, exhibits any more soul than her co-star.

For that matter, the saga itself -- despite its historic and political gravitas, plot twists and location-shot ambience -- feels as limp as its acting. Adapted from the Alan Furst novel, it's crammed with clichés. An under-suspicion turncoat is forever mopping his sweaty forehead. Dialogue runs along the lines of "I have to pick my moment" and "Her heart is closed to you." Someone actually says a lover "made me feel useful, relevant." Such sweet nothings!

Add to that the American challenge of figuring out who's which nationality, since the French have British accents while the remaining cast sounds vaguely Eastern European something or other.

BOTTOM LINE There's a reason it isn't on "Masterpiece Theatre."


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