Restless Miniseries: The True Story
The Restless miniseries stars Hayley Atwell as Eva Delectorskaya, Rufus Sewell as Lucas Romer, Michelle Dockery as Ruth Gilmartin and Charlotte Rampling as an older Eva. William Boyd adapted it from his own novel, which was itself loosely based on actual events.
Note: Spoilers are blacked out like like this [blackout]secret[/blackout]. To reveal a spoiler, just highlight it.
Restless Miniseries: Title
The title uses a classic title archetype, the theme. Eva is by nature restless.
(For more on titles, see How to Choose a Title For Your Novel)
Restless Miniseries: Logline
In 1976, an elderly and paranoid spy recalls how she was sent to the USA before World War Two as an agent provocateur and how the betrayal that has haunted her ever since needs revenge in the present.
(For more on loglines, see The Killogator Logline Formula)
Restless Miniseries: Plot Summary
Restless is the story of Eva Delectorskaya and the consequences of her career as a spy. It is a split time narrative, set in the 1940s and the 1970s. In the 1940s strand, Eva works as a spy for the British during World War II. In the 1970s strand, Eva’s daughter Ruth attempts to discover the truth behind the events Eva witnessed in World War II.
It’s 1976. Ruth Gilmartin’s mother lives in the country. Ruth visits her and learns her mother is in fact Eva Delectorskaya, a Russian refugee recruited as a spy by British Security Co-ordination (BSC) in 1939.
In 1941, with her training complete, BSC send Eva with her boss and lover, Lucas Romer, to Holland. They survive an attack by Nazi spies, who snatch Mi6 agents from a café in ‘Prenslo’. Having proven herself, BSC send Eva to the USA as part of a mission to encourage the USA to join the war. Romer asks her to seduce and blackmail an aide to Harry Hopkins.
In 1976, Ruth poses as a journalist to contact Romer, who is now Lord Romer.
In 1941, Eva seduces and blackmails the aide.
Back in 1976, she follows Lord Romer to his home address after Ruth’s failed interview.
In 1941, BSC order her to pass a poorly forged map outlining a German invasion of the USA to her American contacts. Eva survives several attempts to kill her but her colleagues die one by one. She goes on the run, convinced she’s in mortal danger from a traitor trying to cover up the map plot. Eventually Eva returns to London and attempts to kill Romer, who she suspects is the traitor, but he gets away.
In 1976, [blackout] the two women visit Romer and denounce him as the traitor. He commits suicide to avoid the shame of exposure. The story ends with Eva still scanning the woods around her house, her lifelong paranoia unassuaged by Romer’s death [/blackout].
(For more on summarising stories, see How to Write a Novel Synopsis)
Restless Miniseries: The True Story Behind the Fiction
The World War II sections of the Restless miniseries involve Eva’s recruitment and operations for British Security Co-ordination (BSC). BSC was a real British espionage organisation that operated in the USA during World War II. Several books, most famously A Man Called Intrepid, have been published containing contradictory accounts of BSC’s work.
The Prenslo Incident
William Boyd based the snatching of the spies from a café in ‘Prenslo’ in Restless on the true story of the ‘Venlo Incident’. Two British intelligence officers, Sigismund Payne Best and Richard Stevens, were were operating in the Netherlands. The two agents thought they were in contact with German officers plotting against Hitler. In fact, they were the victims of a sting operation by the German secret service the Sicherheitsdienst (SD). Best and Stephens arranged to meet the supposed plotters at the Café Backus in the Dutch border town of Venlo. From there, the SD snatched them and drove over the border into Germany. The incident in Restless is essentially true to life. However, Boyd inserts the protagonists as witnesses, renames Venlo as Prenslo, and doesn’t name the two MI6 officers.
Seduction and Blackmail
Boyd loosely based this section on the story of Amy Elizabeth Thorpe, code-named ‘Cynthia’. Elizabeth was a British agent in the USA who used her seductive powers to convert isolationist politicians into supporting the British. One of her targets was a US senator, Arthur Vandenberg. During the Lend-Lease debate Vandenberg announced at the last moment that he supported the bill. This was arguably the turning point of the Senate debate. Vandenberg and sixteen other Republicans voted in favour of the bill, which hence passed.
One of Elizabeth’s friends described her as:
Unusually beautiful, she had an exquisite, narrow-boned figure; a light quick-silver wit, a sharp intelligence, and a soft and soothing voice that somehow inspired trust and confidence. It was by a combination of these formidable qualities that she could extract secrets of the highest political and military importance from the men of influence who she cultivated for that purpose.
The Nazi Map
The second episode of the Restless miniseries largely concerns the planting of a fake map on a German courier. It’s based on a statement made by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in which he claimed:
“Hitler has often protested that his plans for conquest do not extend across the Atlantic Ocean. I have in my possession a secret map, made in Germany by Hitler’s government—by the planners of the new world order. It is a map of South America and a part of Central America as Hitler proposes to reorganize it.”
(Navy Day address, broadcast on 27 October 1941)
This map was almost certainly a forgery produced by BSC. The depiction in Restless of the map and the process by which it came into the president’s hands is not accurate. According to the account in A Man Called Intrepid, BSC simply presented the map to the US authorities. They claimed they’d acquired it ‘after a car crash in Buenos Aires’.
Restless Miniseries: Analysis
Adapting the Novel
When I read the novel of Restless, it disappointed me. However, I thought the sections set in World War II were better than those set in the 1970s. I felt the 1970s section was largely padding, added to plump out a relatively thin story and to make it more ‘literary’. Clearly though, the public didn’t share my opinion, as the book was a bestseller.
The Restless miniseries takes the wise course of dropping the bulk of the 1970s plot about Ruth’s struggles as a single mother. Instead of this long section, we have a few brief shots of her reading Eva’s diary and talking to her mother. Her one big scene, where she travels to Lord Romer’s country club and loses a verbal joust with him, remains.
The series concentrates instead on the much more interesting World War II section. Despite this, the story is not much of a ‘thriller’. Anyone expecting Skyfall is likely to be disappointed. Instead think Tinker Tailor, Soldier Spy.
I can’t help feeling that in crowbarring real incidents into the story, Boyd loses sight of narrative drive. What exactly is the point of the ‘Prenslo incident’ scene? Although action-packed, it doesn’t seem to drive the plot forward. Similarly, the seduction and blackmail of Harry Hopkins aide. The Nazi Map does at least have plot relevance as Eva determines that [blackout]Romer has betrayed her[/blackout] after escaping the trap.
At the denouement of the novel, [blackout]Eva confronts Romer, provoking him to suicide to keep his reputation[/blackout]. This leaves a gaping plot hole – why does she only do this in 1976, when she has had the motive for revenge since 1941? In terms of plot mechanics, it’s obvious: Boyd wishes to bring together the two threads of the novel to give closure to the narrative. But in terms of the story world, it’s unexplained.
In the Restless miniseries, Boyd changes the story to fix the problem. After escaping, Eva returns to Britain and [blackout]shoots the minor character who betrayed her to Romer. Romer then chases Eva during an air-raid, and eventually she shoots him. This is more realistic, on two unlikely assumptions. First, Eva believed she’d killed Romer in 1941 and only learnt he wasn’t dead in 1976. Second, Romer failed to track Eva down in the intervening decades. [/blackout]
So, having torn up the plot, what did I like? Well, the story generates a good bit of mystery and tension and evokes the period settings nicely. The acting from the cast is also excellent. The problems, including the tame ending, are all present in the original material.
Alternative Restless Miniseries Poster
This is my design for an alternate, more minimalist, Restless miniseries poster. I manipulated the image of Hayley Atwell to give a 1940s feel and then overlaid with the real forged map from the US archives.
The Restless Miniseries: My Verdict
Worth watching and substantially better than the book.
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