In many ways James Bond is a terrible secret agent. He doesn’t even bother to think of a fake name half the time! The average seedy dive bar with a “do not serve” list penned on a note taped to the wall has enough security to keep him away.
When the stakes are high and you’re looking for a spy who can actually provide some useful information, you need to go to someone a little more subtle – and that’s exactly what they are SBS World Movies: Secrets & Spies Collection of thrillers is all about.
All four films are based on true events, which goes a long way towards explaining why there isn’t a single mysterious man in a tuxedo. Some of these spies happened to be in the right place to gather information, while others used their professional lives to cover their secret missions. Fictional spies can just run off in an Aston Martin if their cover is blown; It could be deadly for these spies to be discovered.
Bond-style glamor comes closest to Norway The spy, the true story of the famous Norwegian-Swedish actress Sonja Wigert (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) during World War II. But even here there’s a solid dose of grim reality; While Wigert’s ’40s style is more than gorgeous enough to explain how the Nazi boss of occupied Norway, Josef Terboven (Alexander Scheer), could (and did) fall in love with her, her spy career has just as much to do with it do to protect her ailing father as she is about doing the right thing and finding out Nazi secrets from her lover.
There’s plenty of seduction and pillow talk here, but the glamor is just facade. Espionage is dirty business – especially when Terboven has her double agent as a spy on the Swedes – and finding someone to trust your heart, let alone your life, is next to impossible.
The spy will air Monday, January 17 at 9:30 p.m. on World Movies. It will be available at SBS On Demand for 7 days after the broadcast.
First, that of the Dutch director Paul Verhoeven black book appears to be a sequel to the sexy thrillers (remember primal instinct?) he did in the US when Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten), a WWII fugitive, joins the Dutch resistance and seduces a local Nazi commander (Sebastian Koch).
While this serves its share of Verhoeven’s trademark action and sizzling moments (Stein has to dye her pubic hair blonde to successfully pass as Aryan), the real focus here is on the shades of gray found in espionage work. As the Third Reich collapses, some on both sides try to do the right thing while others try to settle scores and profit. Even after the war, betrayal is omnipresent; For Stein, the only way out is to embrace the violence around her.
black book will air Tuesday, January 18 at 9:30 p.m. on SBS World Movies. It will be available on SBS On Demand for 30 days after it airs.
The very British Red Johanna looks at espionage from a different angle. What if you had access to information that could make the world a more peaceful place, but only if you betray your own country? For Joan Smith (Sophie Cookson), spending time with communists while studying physics at Cambridge in the 1930s was only part of the university experience. But when she worked as a secretary for Britain’s atomic bomb program, she saw the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (and a little pressure from her lover) that she was providing top-secret information to the Soviet Union.
Judi Dench plays the aged Joan, who is still under investigation long after the end of the Cold War. As a framing tool, this could easily have mitigated her betrayal and portrayed her actions as juvenile indiscretion that hardly matters now. Dench’s iron demeanor refuses to take it easy. She thought what she did was right then, and she still believes it to this day; For them, selling off their country has created a safer world, no matter the cost.
Red Johanna will air Wednesday, January 19 at 9:30 p.m. on SBS World Movies. It will be available on SBS On Demand for 30 days after it airs.
The catcher was a spy
The catcher was a spy is the kind of all-American story that has to be true because nobody could make it up. In the 1930s, professional baseball player Moe Berg (Paul Rudd) – nicknamed “Professor” because he attended Princeton and Columbia – is berated by the police for being (definitely) Jewish and (possibly) gay, but thanks to him Knowledge of the language gets him a spot on an all-star baseball tour of Japan…where he promptly snaps some very useful photos of the Japanese docks, which land him a job with the OSS (the forerunner of the CIA).
If that weren’t improbable enough, the centerpiece of this film is Berg’s mission to Germany in 1944 to track down and chat with leading Nazi scientist Werner Heisenberg (Mark Strong) to find out how Hitler’s atomic bomb project is going – and if necessary , put a bullet in his face.
While Rudd might have movie star looks to play Bond, Berg is a much more complex character, an intellectual who finds himself constantly between worlds before even going undercover. As with all of the real-life spies in this collection, it’s ultimately your wits that count… although it doesn’t hurt to have a gun handy.
The catcher was a spy will air Thursday, January 20 at 9:30 p.m. on SBS World Movies. The film is also now streaming on SBS On Demand.
Follow the author @morrbeat