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Charlotte Rampling and Michelle Dockery Go Spying in Sundance Channel's 'Restless'

Television
by Caryn James
December 7, 2012 9:00 AM
6 Comments
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Once a spy, always a spy – that’s the premise of the sleekly entertaining and wonderfully (if sometimes implausibly) cast thriller Restless. The two-part period piece on Sundance Channel (Part 1 premieres tonight, Part 2 next Friday) offers a double-whammy of time periods. The story begins in the 1970’s with a single mother and graduate student named Ruth Gilmartin. Because she is played by Michelle Dockery  -- Lady Mary from Downton Abbey – and is every bit as commonsensical as that character we get the added wit of seeing Lady Mary transported to the future, where she wears hippie-chic bellbottoms and oversize sunglasses.

Ruth’s mother is played by Charlotte Rampling, who brings her own sang froid to the role of the recently widowed Sally Gilmartin, who thinks she’s being watched, and has written a long, tell-all account of her past for her daughter to read. Sally used to be Eva Delectorskaya, a Russian emigre recruited as a British agent in the months before World War II.  Dockery and Rampling’s cheekbones and hauteur make them a very good, fun-to-watch mother-daughter match. Rampling buys a gun (a very big one); Dockery gives her a good talking to.

As Sally enlists Ruth’s help to see if some old enemies are still after her, we jump back and forth in time, looking at the beginnings of Eva’s spying days. The younger, fearless Eva is played perfectly well by Hayley Atwell, but there is no way that Atwell’s rounded facial features would have turned into Rampling’s razor-sharp features without major surgery. Next to that it seems more credible – but not by much – that Rufus Sewell, who plays Eva’s mentor and eventual lover in the flashback sections, with crafty charm, would morph into Michael Gambon, but he does. Oh well, they’re spies, who knows?

Plausibility is never as important as cleverness in mysteries, anyway, and Restless (written by William Boyd from his novel, and directed by Edward Hall) is smart and swift enough to master all the turns. Eva finds herself in the U.S., driving a convertible through the desert, part of a British team trying to lure America into the war; those flashbacks are beautifully spliced into the ongoing story of Sally and Ruth trying to flush out the possible rat from Eva's past.

Sundance Channel hasn’t been known for  original dramas, but Restless is the first of an intriguing new batch, which includes Jane Campion’s Top  of the Lake. And last year the channel presented the fantastic, tough-minded Appropriate Adult, with Dominic West as a serial killer and Emily Watson as the social worker who gets sucked into this case.

Restless is less audacious than Appropriate Adult; in fact, it would fit comfortably as a Masterpiece Mystery, but take that as a compliment. It’s swift and engaging, full of great period color, and that unbeatable cast. Fans of the genre will be in heaven.

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6 Comments

  • szary212 | February 24, 2014 8:57 AMReply

    "sangfroid " is one word, not two, and I don't think the author of this review knows its meaining
    she probably meant "je ne sais quoi", which this context actually calls for; plus Charlotte Rampling displays anything but sangfroid in the film - on the contrary, most of the time she seems rattled and rather falling to pieces:)

  • MD | January 7, 2013 8:31 AMReply

    Disappointing...far too implausible. It's never explained why Eva became a spy to begin with - seems like just a whim. Nothing in the way of a valid reason - ideology, passion, - was ever given. I also didn't like the way the Eva became the 'lover' of her more powerful boss who who proceeded to 'pimp' her out as a honey trap complete with cheap clothes and blond hair.

  • Ko a | December 30, 2012 11:42 PMReply

    Husband loved part one of Sundance "Restless"' missed part two...he, we, want to know when/if it will be on again? Can you help us?

  • Jean LeVert | December 28, 2012 10:26 AMReply

    Excellent piece; however the second half of each segment was dotted with too many commercial breaks - far too many. The result being that the pace and power of the film and acting get lost.

  • stella sissons | December 28, 2012 8:27 AMReply

    hayley atwell has brown eyes and charlotte rampling has blue ???

  • Plethora | December 15, 2012 12:03 PMReply

    Sundance's constant advertisements throughout "Restless" ruined it.

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