The two-part, pre-WW2 spy story starring David Tennant comes to Blu-ray just a few days after airing on BBC America. Unfortunately, a technical problem with the release’s audio mix relegates it to a “rent only” status, despite the quality of the feature and its video presentation.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 3 Hr. 6 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, UltraViolet
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 04/16/2013
As a decorated war hero turned “diplomat” gathering information for French intelligence, Col. Jean-Francois Mercier (David Tennant) spends his days in Warsaw pulling strings more than triggers, though that may soon change. Rumblings among Mercier’s informants and spies suggest Nazi Germany has its mind on taking over Poland by force, but unfortunately, French military leaders need more convincing. Though Mercier gets the leeway to pursue additional leads, it may all be for naught as Germany’s overarching plans begin to outpace Mercier’s networking efforts. An unexpected romance with League of Nations attorney Anna Skarbek (Janet Montgomery) has also cast the impending war in a decidedly more personal light, forcing Mercier into a situation of divided interests, if not loyalties.
The Production Rating: 4/5
Based on Alan Furst’s novel by the same name, Spies of Warsaw is an espionage story in the tradition of John le Carré’s more grounded and politically complicated work. This may put off some viewers looking for an outright spy thriller, but the methodical story and character development set in pre-WW2 Poland and France should provide plenty of rewards for the more patient. Adapted for the screen by Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement (Never Say Never Again), the story’s major challenge is making the foregone conclusion that is the Invasion of Poland consistently compelling. On that front the filmmakers prove largely successful, but less so with the generic, romantic subplot that never becomes more than what it is – a distraction for the main character, as well as the audience. It also gives Montgomery precious little to do other than flirt, kiss and cry. While it may accurately reflect the gender limitations of that era, it seems unnecessary and regressive to make the role an actual throwback to that time.
Spies of Warsaw, which aired on BBC America over two separate nights in early April 2013, is also presented in two parts on the Blu-ray.
Framed at 1.78:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec, the picture features deep, inky blacks; full and uncompromised contrast; and rich, though somewhat muted, color. Detail and sharpness are also first rate, being especially revealing in hair, skin and fabrics. A few brief moments of banding and noise show up here and there, but nothing to prove distracting from an overall pleasing high definition image.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
There’s something decidedly off with the movie’s sole audio option, an English DTS-HD Master Audio track that has dialogue constantly shifting in placement and presence across its two channels. While these kinds of shifts are commonly used to lend sonic realism to cuts between wide shots and close ups, there’s no such rationale here, as the changes don’t follow the edits in any noticeable way. The film’s score and sound effects seem unaffected, however, suggesting a problem exists further up the production chain than something to do with the audio encoding.
Audio Rating: 2/5
A straightforward promotional piece and a digital copy make for a slim collection of extras.
Special Features Rating: 1.5/5
David Tennant on Spies of Warsaw (10:10, HD): Along with Screenwriters Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement, Tennant talks about the story, characters and production experience.
Digital Copy: The UltraViolet digital copy offer expires April 16, 2015.
Though featuring a great looking video transfer, the technically flawed audio track on BBC Home Entertainment’s Blu-ray for Spies of Warsaw should, by all rights, result in a product recall. It’s not likely though, given the limited audience for this British, pre-WW2 spy story. Though the film proves interesting enough to recommend, especially for historical fiction buffs, the Blu-ray should be viewed strictly as a rental.
Overall Rating: 2/5
Reviewed By: Cameron Yee
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