Restless BBC1 with Hayley Atwell, Michelle Dockery, Rufus Sewell, Charlotte Rampling, Michael Gambon PREVIEW

Hayley Atwell as Eva in William Boyd's Restless on BBC1
Shady character – Hayley Atwell as Eva. Pics BBC

Rating: ★★★★½ 

BBC1: Starts Thursday, 27 December, 9pm 

Story: One day in 1976, Ruth’s mother Sally suddenly tells her she has been living a double life. She is not respectable Sally Gilmartin but in fact Eva Delectorskaya, a spy for the British Secret Service who has been on the run for 30 years.

Most of us would burst out laughing if our mum told us she used to be a spy. But in Ruth Gilmartin’s case, her mother has always been a bit off-kilter.

As Ruth’s young son says, ‘Is Sally your real mummy… She’s so strange.’

Charlotte Rampling and Michelle Dockery star in BBC1's spy thriller Restless
Charlotte Rampling and Michelle Dockery

So when Sally tells her daughter that her real name is Eva Delectorskaya, that she spied for Britain during the war and that someone, 30 years after the war, is now after her, we know we’re in for a highly intriguing drama. And this beautifully made and wonderfully cast two-part film lives up to its terrific premise, being one of the must-see dramas of this Christmas season.

Michelle Dockery and Charlotte Rampling
Ruth, played by Downton Abbey‘s Michelle Dockery, is still incredulous as she learns more of Sally/Eva’s story. When she demands that her mother then speak Russian to her and her mum does so, Ruth realises that she barely knows her. Sally then says Ruth’s father also never knew of her secret past.

‘We all have secrets,’ says Sally, played by Charlotte Rampling. ‘No one knows even half the truth about any one else.’

Rufus Sewell as Lucas Romer in the spy thriller Restless on BBC1
Shadowy Rufus Sewell

The drama flashes back to 1939, when Sally was Eva – and looked a lot like Hayley Atwell, the Captain America actress who is also cropping up a lot on TV, having just been in Sky Atlantic’s Falcon and soon to star in ITV1’s Life of Crime next year. However, her casting here jars a little, as she and Charlotte Rampling in no way resemble each other (particularly with Charlotte’s pale blue eyes clashing with her younger self’s brown eyes).

Rufus Sewell is the mysterious Romer
But once this is forgotten, the plot thickens nicely. We learn how Rufus Sewell as the mysterious Lucas Romer recruits Eva in France after her brother is murdered by fascists. Reluctant at first, Eva turns out to be excellent spy material – she’s bright, resourceful and multi-lingual (as a Russian emigre in France who once had an English nanny).

The old spymaster Lucas Romer played by Michael Gambon in Restless
Michael Gambon as the older Romer

She trains in Scotland and impresses her spy masters. Having initially enjoyed the thrill of it all, she gets a terrifying reality check when her first operation on the German border goes lethally wrong for some British agents and she is chased by Nazi goons.

She ends up with Romer’s team in the USA, planting news stories intended to tip public opinion in favour of Uncle Sam joining the war. This is all suspenseful stuff. Eva does well but feels a bit like a pawn at times, with the added peril of possible betrayal by a British team member when a Russian agent passing them information turns up dead.

Engrossing adaptation of William Boyd’s novel
This strand is juxtaposed with the older Eva appealing to her daughter for help in finding the older Romer, as she believes he is only man who can help her now that her decades-old cover has been blown. ‘Someone’s going to try to kill me very soon,’ she says.

Hayley Atwell as the spy Eva in BBC1's Restless
Eva must seduce an ally

The first of the two 90-minute films ends on a suitably teetering cliff-hanger, with young Eva having been pressed into an assignment similar to Ingrid Bergman’s in Notorious – she has to sleep with a contact close to President Roosevelt – and Ruth having tracked down old Romer, who’s now in the House of Lords and played by Michael Gambon.

Restless is, of course, based on a novel by William Boyd, the man behind the next 007 novel. The alternating modern and wartime intrigues are both engrossing, and the characters grow convincingly into their dangerous lifestyles and keep us wondering how they will get through (and what would we do in their place?).

It’s an accomplished, rich drama. You can afford to miss two hours of Dullton Abbey this Christmas – but don’t let this spy thriller stay undercover.

Cast: Hayley Atwell Eva Delectorskaya, Rufus Sewell younger Lucas Romer, Michael Gambon older Lucas Romer, Michelle Dockery Ruth Gilmartin, Charlotte Rampling Sally Gilmartin

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  1. xxQGxx says:

    Really looking forward to this one

  2. Despite what she tells her daughter, Sally Gilmartin clearly was never Eva Delectorskaya, for she looks nothing like her, and people do NOT change their eye colour unless they start wearing coloured contact lenses. Having obtained Eva Delectorskaya’s file, she is clearly deceiving her daughter and trading on her connections at Cambridge University to get to Lucas Romer. If I’m wrong about this, the BBC’s casting is totally ludicrous.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Spent the whole time expecting a twist with Sally Gilmartin admitting to not being Eva. Why on earth would you cast actresses with completely different eye colours? Ruined it for me.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Loved the whole thing (including wrongly matched eye colour which didn’t bother me). Just one twist I didn’t understand at the end. Why did she need to fake her handler’s suicide? If he had twigged what actually happened he wasn’t a threat to her? If he had reported his newfound knowledge to Roma, what difference would that have made?

    Mildly confused of Hertfoshire.

  5. A complete waste of time. Good actors and not a bad storyline (although there was a lot of confusion with the story and plot holes) but a horrible script.

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