Monday, 24 February 2020

TV review: The Spy, Netflix (2019)

This short miniseries, six 45-minute episodes, is based on true events. I wasn't the only one to enjoy it, as this tweet shows.

The acting is low-key and the show is character-driven but it is in English even though most of the dialogue in real life would have been in Arabic and Hebrew. Perhaps subtitles should have been used instead of English dialogue. There are some action scenes but because you always sense the normalcy of the leads – especially the spy Eli Cohen, played by Sacha Baron Cohen – such elements take a backseat to the personal relationships Eli has with other people, most notably with his wife Nadia (Hadar Ratzon Rotem).

Because it is important for the viewer to understand the complexities of Eli’s character, a good deal of time is spent developing the Nadia character. The couple had two small girls and the family unit forms a central aspect of the dramatic life in this excellent historical thriller.

Alexander Siddig is good as Suidani, Eli’s nemesis, who brings a sense of threat to every scene in which he appears. Mossad manager Dan Peleg (sensitively played by Noah Emmerich) is also compelling, and you feel his anxiety at various points as he prepares Eli for his new life as an agent working in Syria in the years leading up to and following the military coup that, in 1963, brought the Ba’ath Party to power in that Middle Eastern nation. Under cover as a trader, Eli befriends a number of prominent Syrians and sends useful information back to Tel Aviv. Some of it is packed into exports of furniture and some is transmitted via Morse code.

The series was written and directed by Gideon Raff. I suspect that, due to its controversial nature, his achievement will not be rewarded with many views, but Israelis have long memories, and the troubles of the era that is covered in this film are still fresh in the minds of many who live in that country.

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