Restless Episode One: Hayley Atwell, Rufus Sewell and Charlotte Rampling shine in this multi-layered espionage thriller

by Matt D

restless bbc

In this weird time between Christmas and New Years it seems that normal TV service won’t be resumed till 2013 but sometimes this week produces some of the best programmes of the year thanks in part to the fact that the schedulers have so much time to fill. Two-part spy drama Restless is a case in point as BBC1 have devoted two ninety minute slots to properly tell this story which is based on a William Boyd novel of 2006. Boyd’s novels have been adapted for TV before, most notably with Channel 4’s 2010 interpretation of Any Human Heart, however here I feel that the ninety minute episode helped develop the plot and the cut-off point for this first episode was superbly judged.

The story starts in 1976 where we meet Ruth Gilmartin, played by Michelle ‘Lady Mary’ Dockery, a single mother and PHd student who goes to meet her mother Sally who she believes to have lived a quiet life as a married woman. Ruth is then shocked to learn that Sally is in fact Eva Delectorskaya a half-Russian former secret agent who has revealed her true identity to her daughter as she now needs her help. Sally believes that she is under threat now that her picture has been printed in the local paper in a story covering the funeral of her late husband’s memorial service. At first Ruth doesn’t believe her mother’s story however as she reads the accounts of her time working for the Secret Service she starts to come round to the fact that her mother had lied to her and her father for 30 years. She is also more inclined to help her mother after she sees her purchasing a shotgun and later sees her paranoia when she won’t answer the phone to anyone. Ruth eventually agrees to track down the only man that her mother believes can help her Lucas Romer the man that recruited her in the first place though as we learn throughout the story he may not be the person that Sally/Eva believes him to be.


The story of Restless flits between these 1970s scenes and Eva’s accounts of her own life during the war which are being read by Ruth. This part of the programme begins in 1939 with the death of Eva’s brother and her first meeting with Romer who eventually reveals himself to be a spymaster and tells Eva that her brother was in fact killed by a group who discovered his true identity. Though she takes a little convincing Lucas eventually gets Eva to train with the Secret Service where she assumes the identity of the very British Eve Dalton. Eva’s training mainly consists of learning the names of the American presidents and state capitals while lazing around in the grounds of a beautiful house in the Scottish highlands. Though her training did involve learning some survivalist techniques Eva didn’t receive any sort of weapons training but the reason for this is that her job would involve the planting of false stories in various news bulletins in order to insight hatred for the Germans from various countries. As Eva’s time with the Service draws on she becomes more drawn to Romer who takes her on a mission with him to Holland where they attempt to track down an agent who wishes to give information about the German army. Before he can do this however he is tracked down and shot a scene which is witnessed by Eva who runs back to inform Romer only to discover that he has already left Holland. As she tells the senior members of the Secret Service what she saw the first doubts are planted in our head about whose side Romer is actually on a feeling that increases after another suspicious death of a man Eva briefly encountered. By this stage though Eva is completely infatuated by Romer and the two start a romantic relationship as their team moves over to America to start spreading their stories over there. As the episode comes to an end Romer sends Eva to extract information from a man who knows Roosevelt’s thoughts and instructs her to use her sexuality in order to achieve this. In the present meanwhile Ruth finally gets a meeting with Romer, now a Lord, and so we are left with two cliffhangers leading into tomorrow’s concluding chapter.


I have to say I really enjoyed Restless and the main reason for this was the pacing of the drama which was full of tension and perfectly transitioned between the two time periods creating intrigue both about Eva’s life during the war and who exactly it is who wishes to harm Sally and her family. The fact that the action shifts between several different countries also helps as we are transported from rural Scotland to small offices in Belgium and finally the glorious settings of 1940s America. Boyd’s characters are also well-translated here with Eva/Sally being presented as a strong female protagonist in both time periods as she is someone who is always out to do the best she can but later realises the most important thing is to protect herself. Obviously her one weakness is Romer a charming and interesting man that a girl like Eva can easily be won over by however we are made aware that he is definitely not all he seems and he may well be the reason why Sally is now being targeted once again. Another of Restless’ positive elements was its sumptuous production design with the period detail perfectly captured both the wartime scenes and later in the scenes set in the 1970s.

The ensemble cast are also brilliant with Hayley Atwell perfectly leading the cast as the young Eva portraying as both independent and impressionable especially when it comes to Romer. Rufus Sewell was also the perfect choice to play Romer as he can do both dashing and debonair but also is able to plant suspicions in our head over where his loyalties actually lie. Reading reviews of the books it seems that the 1970s scenes are the weaker of the two however I didn’t feel that mainly due to the casting of the brilliant Charlotte Rampling who adds a certain dignity and gravitas to her performance as Sally someone who is just trying to live a quiet life. Michelle Dockery even makes you forget about Lady Mary by playing Ruth as somewhat of a hippie chick who is completely thrown by these new revelations concerning her mother.

Overall I would say Restless sits up there with one of the best programmes of the year as it has an intriguing plot filled with complex and compelling characters. The two period settings are well-designed while the cast led by Atwell, Sewell and Rampling all do their jobs marvellously. I do think as well that the programme has been aided by the time of year that it has been scheduled as two ninety minute episodes airing on consecutive nights couldn’t have happened on any other week of 2012 therefore at least this weird in-between week has some benefits.

What did you think to Restless? Did you enjoy it as much as I did? Leave Your Comments Below.


  1. gina mann on December 28, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    Sadly ,no. Loved the book but the TV version is too lightweight – trying too hard to look just right [a bit like The Hour recently] with style taking over from substance. Charlott R was excellent,so too Rufus S. but the young Eva wasn’t believable -too fluffy and too glamorous – a serious agent wouldn’t wear high heels if she was on a possibly dangerous mission surely ? I felt the whole thing needed to be a bit darker – more Scandinavian perhaps rather than comfy BBC Sunday night type viewing. [Maybe The Killing,The Bridge etc have spoiled me].

  2. gina mann on December 28, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    Sorry ,but no. I enjoyed the book but the tv prog. was not believable. A bit like The Hour recently it tried too hard to look right, at the expense of looking realistic. Charlotte R and Rufus S were both good, but young Eva didn’t ring true – too lightweight and glamorous – surely a serious agent wouldn’t wear high heels if she might be involved in a dangerous mission?
    For me it needed to be darker, instead of the usual comfy BBC Sunday night viewing. Oh dear I have probably been spoiled by Scandinavian thrillers.

  3. Jonathan on December 28, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    Filmed mainly in Cape Town during this past summer; France, New York, Scotland etc. all recreated in South Africa, complete with the very authentic period costumes and sets. All those French looking extras – natives of Cape Town.

  4. Angela Jimack on December 29, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    I throughly enjoyed this drama, it held me captive for both segaments. I have not read the book and in a way I am glad I didnt as I think this would have spoilt it for me.
    I think the acting was amazing,
    I just didnt understand the ending! Was it all in her head, had the forest been cleared and there wasnt anyone out there? Shame was baffled!

  5. Marvin on December 30, 2012 at 2:15 am

    I’ll give the book a go as I’m sure it will be worth reading. The adaptation was typical of today’s directors – actors going through the motions with too many meaningful glances – but what did the glances mean?! I would have turned off if I’d been at home watching on my own but had to stick with it for sake of the company I was with. To sum up – boring and baffling, unworthy of a fine writer like William Boyd.

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