CHENNAI: Period pieces, even thrillers, stretching over several episodes have to be gripping to hold the attention of viewers.
“Traitors,” the stylish Channel 4 series now streaming on Netflix, manages to do just that.
Set in 1945, London is limping back to normality after the German Luftwaffe bombardment of the British capital and is desperately trying to ally with the Americans after their atomic attacks on Japan.
Created and written by Bathsheba Doran (“Smack the Pony,” and “Masters of Sex”), six-episode “Traitors” tells the story of a British civil servant who agrees to spy on her own government for the US in the aftermath of the war.
Fascinatingly mounted, shot and acted, the details of the day have been captured to the last button on a jacket, with each episode flowing effortlessly into the next.
Seen through the eyes of a very English Feef Symonds (Emma Appleton), “Traitors” may have the feel of the 1940s but has an unmistakable post-modern touch.
Symonds is a plucky young woman coaxed and ultimately blackmailed by the paranoid Americans to become a spy and help root out Russian Communist infiltrators in the highest echelons of British political power.
Symonds – yearning for a pretty dress, a fancy car and freedom – walks into what turns out to be a den of deceit and death.
And when British administrative official, Priscilla Garrick (Keeley Hawes) steps into the ring of vice, the series really hots up. Garrick tells Symonds that women have to be twice as good as men, and the spy takes this as a cue to push ahead and play a game that foxes even her hardcore American handler, Rowe (Michael Stuhlbarg).
“Traitors” may be a historical spy drama, but it is much more than that because it gives viewers something extra. The characters have their weaknesses but press on to exploit the secrets of others.
Appleton, Hawes, and Stuhlbarg with his majestic moustache, take us into a seedy world with performances that are top notch.