ALL 4 TV REVIEW – TRAITORS (2019)
Created and written by: Bathsheba “Bash” Doran
Writers: Bash Doran, Emily Ballou, Tracey Scott Wilson
Directors: Alex Winckler, Dearbhla Walsh
Cast: Emma Appleton, Luke Treadaway, Michael Stuhlbarg, Keeley Hawes, Brandon P. Bell, Greg McHugh etc.
Original Network: Channel 4 – available on All 4
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
War brings out the worst of humanity; difficult choices must be made as lies, fiction and manipulations become the order of the day. This is especially true where the shadowy world of the spy is concerned. The Channel 4 drama, Traitors (2019), was released last year and presents six intelligently written episodes exploring matters of politics and espionage in post-war 1945-set London. Pitting American, British and Russian spies against each other, it also delves into the history behind the creation of the Israeli state by the British. Indeed, the reverberations of future political conflicts, between Israel and Palestine, coalesce alongside echoes of the recently demised World War II.
This is an ensemble driven piece, but the lead protagonist is Emma Appleton’s portrayal of Feef Symonds. She is a young upper-class civil servant looking to serve her country in more exciting ways than mere typing. Thus, she finds herself becoming a secret agent for Michael Stuhlbarg’s obsessive Office of Strategic Services operative, Rowe. Stuhlbarg gives his usual excellent performance as the shady American spy. His paranoid fixation with all things Soviet, becomes a reflective precursor to the infamous “Red Scare” that plagued American socio-politics in the 1950’s.
Rowe determines that the British Government must have a Soviet spy in its’ midst and charges Feef with tracking them and reporting back. As Feef delves deeper within the corridors of Whitehall she begins a cat-and-mouse game with many potential suspects, notably Keeley Hawes’ suspicious civil servant. Feef’s romance with an earnest Labour MP, portrayed by Luke Treadaway, also complicates matters. Hawes, as expected, is impressive in her role and is the most memorably complex of the characters. Hawes is especially adept at burying twisted anguish within this subtle performance. Her character battles both personal and political conflicts and is the most empathetic within a gallery of untrustworthy archetypes.
Overall, I enjoyed Traitors (2019) for it’s well-researched historical aspects and some very fine acting. My main reservations though were that the drama never quite caught fire, despite some decent suspense amidst the espionage. Moreover, there was, no doubt deliberate, an arrogant air about most of the characters. Conversely, I did not really warm to any of the personalities due to their wintry natures. That’s the problem with the representation of spies here; they’re nothing like the fantasy action heroes of Ethan Hunt and James Bond. Here they are all shown all to be liars and traitors of a kind and therefore difficult to like or trust. My feeling is that is precisely is the point. The programme reflects a world today where we are consistently fed government lies, fictions and manipulations.
Mark: 8 out of 11