On-Set Report: The Spies Of Warsaw

Janet Montgomery and David Tennant   Pic: Stefan Romanik

 

Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza had a reporter on the set during filming of The Spies of Warsaw in the Old Town, Warsaw yesterday. The series stars David Tennant and Janet Montgomery and is expected to be shown in the autumn.

 

View shots from the set by Stefan Romanik here

 

Read a translation of the article below:

 

British Spy In Warsaw

Jacek Szczerba

24.05.12

 

The Spies Of Warsaw, the first co-production between the BBC and TVP is currently shooting. The British liked today’s Warsaw so much that it will not only portray its pre-war self but also Berlin, Paris and Prague. TVP will show the series in the autumn.

 

A woman in a gray beret and a rust-coloured leather jacket, and a man in a suit and a green jacket, are walking along Kanonia in Warsaw’s Old Town. They look as if they were from another era, and as if they had just parted. She finally goes to one side, nervously wringing hands in long gloves. “She tells him that they should no longer meet, but they will be together” Director of Photography Wojciech Szepel explains to me, as I do not have headphones to hear any of the dialogue.

 

We are attending the 33rd of 43 shooting days during which the four-part series is being produced – The Spies Of Warsaw, the first co-production between the BBC and TVP. It is a screen adaptation from Alan Furst’s spy novel (published in Poland two years ago). The story is set at the turn of 1937-1938. This couple in the Old Town are Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier (David Tennant, known from the series Doctor Who), working as a military attaché in the French Embassy in Warsaw, and the Polish Anna Szarbek (Janet Montgomery from the TV series Merlin), a League Of Nations lawyer. In addition to being involved in espionage (surrounding the German plans for the conquest of Europe) they also have an affair.

 

Director Coky Giedroyc (of TV’s Holmes and Oliver Twist and a relative of the creator of the Parisian Kultury), in grey army boots and a white undershirt, emphatically directs on the set. Assistants cover the modern white lines on the roadway. One of them scatters seed before the cameras so that the pigeons fly up. At the signal a pair of students with books enter the frame – talking at the door of a gloomy house – a woman carrying a heavy shopping bag and a moustached old man astride a bicycle. Nearby is parked a black car from the 30s. On the walls of houses hang signs from the era, such as the makers of underwear and suspenders.

 

“What will the photography look like?” “Similar to those of the 30s and 40s, except the colour. This may sound bad, but somewhat in the style of Adolf Hitler’s filmmaker’s work” DoP Szepel tells me. Every other production department is managed by the British. The screenplay is by Dick Clement and Ian la Frenais who are responsible for, among other things, The Commitments by Alan Parker.

 

Following the fact-finding visit to Warsaw, the British were so delighted by the staging possibilities of this place that they decided that modern Warsaw will not only portray its pre-war self but also Berlin, Paris and Prague. The series is filmed on location and in natural surroundings. In the movie the foyer of the former cinema becomes Warsaw railway station. Due to ownership changes – the donation of the property by former owners – the British filmmakers can now take advantage of the deserted palace of the Branicki family in Podwale Street and the stylish and now empty interiors of Senators. A scene of a car exploding was filmed in the Norblin factory. There were five takes, and each time the car was quickly extinguished and repainted.

 

The schedule is very tight, there is no time to break for interviews. “What is unique about the British?” I ask the Polish section of the team. “That they don’t have any special requirements or cause any fuss. They are professionals.”

 

“How do I know this guy? Because I recognise him” some Poles have been asking when Julian Glover was announced, here playing a senior British intelligence officer. Well, yes, after all he sends off Indiana Jones on his quest for the Holy Grail and is the bad guy in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only. Well known Poles in The Spies Of Warsaw are Marcin Dorociński and Mirosław Zbrojewicz as Zbigniew, Mercier’s driver who wants to dig at Germany. And Russia, it’s not certain who will invade first.

 

Next scene: a grey van with the words ‘Bread and Cakes’ going down the narrow streets watched by the Russians lurking in the black car. The Russians are convinced that the van is hiding someone important, but it’s just clever camouflage designed specifically for them.

 

The team attracts the attention of passers-by. “They’re making a film” a woman says to two girls dressed for First Holy Communion, walking with her towards the Cathedral of St. John. A young couple are spotted, just after their wedding ceremony, taking a picture with the ‘antique’ car. School trips also visit the set. The filmmakers are just leaving Warsaw and have moved on to Chabowka to shoot at the local railway museum – on the restored pre-war trains and track that will stand in for Romania.

 

The English language series will show on TVP in the autumn dubbed into Polish.

 

Source: Gazeta Wyborcza

 

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