Traitors, Channel 4
- Brian Donaldson
- 14 February 2019
New spy drama portrays a paranoid West dealing with enemies within
It's almost impossible to watch a historical screen drama these days without feeling the weight of contemporary significance. The six-part Traitors may be set at the end of World War II but its relevance to the UK and USA of today is writ large. With the battle against the Nazis drawing to a close and the US dropping hell on Japan, some parts of the world may be looking forward to a period of peace, but for others, war is a seeming state of permanence.
In the opening episode of Traitors, the British are accused of sleepwalking through a crucial turning point in history (hello Brexit!) while the Americans see shadowy enemies around every corner (the Trump regime in a nutshell), even suggesting that the Soviets might have had undue influence in the 1945 general election. While the post-war revolution in Britain is delivered at the polling booths with a new Labour administration elected ahead of ushering in the welfare state, the US attempts to force its brand of change is triggered by undermining officials and infiltrating government departments.
In Traitors, Americans see Reds everywhere (you could replace the communists of then with minorities, terrorists and journalists today), as the Cold War prepares to heat up, eventually bringing the world to an abyss in the early 60s and 80s. Led by the shifty Rowe (Michael Stuhlbarg), dark forces within the US secret service aim to get a toehold in Whitehall (an institution that's teeming with Bolsheviks apparently) by utilising an ambitious young civil servant to sniff out the insurgents. Feef Symonds (Emma Appleton), who yearns for the excitement she's not getting at the Department of Housing, is deemed to be the ideal candidate for this task.
During the first segment, the context is set up at a quicksharp pace with characters played by Keeley Hawes (a top-ranking civil servant) and Brandon P Bell (a US military man hiding some inner trauma) looking as though they'll have much more to offer later in the series. A decent beginning to a drama that will have viewers nodding at the resonance while having their pulses fully under control.
Episodes watched: one of six
Traitors starts on Channel 4, Sunday 17 February, 9pm