TV: Restless

June 20, 2020

Without ever quite loving it, I enjoyed the BBC miniseries Restless (2012). Based on a novel by William Boyd, Restless is a multiple-timeline espionage tale about Eva Delectorskaya (Hayley Atwell), a Russian immigrant who arrives in Paris in 1939 just as European tensions are about to explode into war. When Eva’s brother is killed, she learns that he was secretly working for British intelligence. This news comes from Lucas Romer (Rufus Sewell), who proceeds to recruit Eva as well. She takes to the work quickly, motivated in no small part by her attraction Lucas, which soon develops into romance. But when she’s sent as part of a team to the United States on a journalism cover, her altruistic mission quickly takes a precarious turn into deceit and betrayal.

Restless is told in a flashback frame from the 1970s, as Ruth Gilmartin (Michelle Dockery) learns of this wartime intrigue from her paranoid mother Sally (Charlotte Rampling) — who, as it happens, is actually Eva Delectorskaya, who’s been in hiding in this new identity for over thirty years. The jerky pacing between the alternating tracks, from the 1940s to 1970s, may be the element that kept this one at a distance for me. The two timelines are…rhythmically disconnected? It’s jarring, just slightly enough to be distracting, and the fact that the physical casting across timelines isn’t particularly convincing doesn’t help matters. Overall, the story is nicely structured, particularly in the 1940s track, which is carried ably by Atwell’s charismatic performance. (Looking back, one might view this as her unwitting audition for Agent Carter.) Meanwhile, in the 1970s, Dockery is quite likable in a role that is unfortunately more observational than active. I admired the nuts and bolts of the plot, but the story doesn’t disguise enough of its twists. Because of the frame, Sewell’s obvious shiftiness and the false-flag warning signs are evident far too early, dampening the surprise. Overall, I suspect as a construct this works better on the page than it does on the screen. But as a short-term investment for a spy fiction junkie, Restless is not without its merits as a cozy historical espionage yarn, with a nicely executed milieu and winning performances from Atwell and Dockery.