Warsaw in 1937 was a city full of intrigue. A city crawling with spies.
A city on the brink of war.
Its story is told in BBC America's superb, gorgeously shot mini-series Spies of Warsaw, which premieres Wednesday.
It's one of two major new TV dramas this week, along with Rogue, a gritty, violent cop series from DirectTV's Audience Network, which also begins Wednesday, with a feature-length pilot.
Spies of Warsaw is a lush, classic spy yarn starring David Tennant (Doctor Who, Hamlet) as Col. Jean-Francois Mercier, a dashing French World War I hero-turned-spy who is convinced that a German invasion is imminent, but is ignored by his superiors.
Adapted from Alan Furst's acclaimed 2008 novel, the mini-series will be shown in two 90-minute parts on successive Wednesdays.
It's September 1937, and the French Embassy in Warsaw has a new addition to its staff: Military attache Col. Mercier, a war hero with more medals on his chest - and more bayonet, bullet, and shrapnel scars on his body - than one could count.
His cover job is to sell French armaments to an impoverished Poland and to assure the Poles that the French will come to their rescue in case of German aggression. He attends countless dinners, dances, and cocktail parties, doing the embassy circuit around town.
In reality, he's a covert operative sent by France's spy organization, Deuxième Bureau, to divine the strength and positions of the Nazi war machine.
Tennant is brilliant as Mercier, a true hero who doesn't believe for a moment he's a hero. A brooding pessimist who passionately believes in hope. He's appropriately bored yet charming at parties. On moonless nights he crosses into Germany, or gathers intel from his Polish and German agents.
Polish star Marcin Dorocinski plays Mercier's only close friend, Polish intelligence agent Antoni Pakulski. They fought together in 1920 in the Polish-Russian war, and now commiserate with each other about the good old days when war was face-to-face and not covert, a matter of the shadows.
And Janet Montgomery plays Anna Skarbek, a Polish-French lawyer whose charm proves more dangerous than any German offensive.
Spies of Warsaw is a deeply romantic, intricately plotted, and well-structured character study. But it doesn't romanticize espionage or revel in violence. It shows it as a dangerous, often ugly, if necessary, business.
Newton as a 'Rogue' cop
DirectTV makes its first foray into original scripted programing with Rogue, a violent, dark, and twisted police thriller on the satellite provider's Audience Network.
British actress Thandie Newton (For Colored Girls, RocknRolla) is mesmerizing, if not always convincing, as Grace Travis, an undercover cop who has infiltrated an Oakland, Calif., crime family run by Jimmy Laszlo (Bourne Supremacy assassin Marton Csokas).
After she has insinuated herself for months into Jimmy's inner circle as the black-leather-clad, wild-child freelance drug importer Jackie Hays, Grace's operation falls apart when her 7-year-old son is killed in a drive-by shooting.
But . . . and here it is . . . when Grace finds out that the bullet that killed her son is similar to one used to kill one of Jimmy's friends, she wants back in with his crew.
She's obsessed. Her job, as her poor husband Tom (Kavan Smith) tells her, isn't a career but an addiction.
Grace's lieutenant (Claudia Ferri) won't allow her to go undercover again. But Grace does it anyway.
She goes - rogue.
And that's when she finds out some of her cop friends are corrupt, that Jimmy is involved in some international financial conspiracy, and that the world is awful and scary.
Rogue, which also features Ian Hart as Grace's undercover handler and Ian Tracey as the only cop she truly trusts, isn't exactly subtle. The plot is as forced as Newton's American accent, which jumps from Brooklyn to Texas and back to New York in a single sentence.
Over-boiled, over-violent, and overly abundant with sex scenes, Rogue is sure to click with hardcore cop-thriller fans who care less about plotting and characterization than the bang . . . bang . . . bang.
"Spies of Warsaw"
9 p.m. Wednesday on BBC America
9 p.m. Wednesday on DirectTV's Audience Network