TV 'SPY CITY'
Dominic Cooper, center, stars in a scene from the TV show "Spy City" airing April 15, 2021, on AMC+. CNS photo/Dusan Martincek, AMC
TV 'SPY CITY' Dominic Cooper, center, stars in a scene from the TV show "Spy City" airing April 15, 2021, on AMC+. CNS photo/Dusan Martincek, AMC
NEW YORK – By 1961, the victorious Allied Powers had been occupying different sectors of the divided city of Berlin for more than 15 years.

That summer, the Soviet Union renewed its threat to conclude a separate peace with East Germany and thus end the right, in its view, of the United States, Great Britain and France to maintain their presence in the former Nazi capital.

The resulting crisis, which ended with the construction of the Berlin Wall, provides the backdrop to the limited series thriller "Spy City." First made available on the European service Magenta in December, the intelligent but gritty six-part drama begins streaming on AMC+ Thursday, April 15. Further individual episodes will be released Thursdays through May 20.

Marked by much mayhem and a high body count, the show may be too violent even for many adults. Add to that fairly strong sexual content – including adulterous activity, harassment and nudity – and the appropriate audience for the program is reduced still further.

One subplot, moreover, involves a blackmail scheme that exposes a same-sex romance. The relationship itself, though, remains in the background.

Award-winning Scottish novelist, playwright and screenwriter William Boyd created, wrote and executive-produced "Spy City." Portuguese filmmaker Miguel Alexandre directed it.

Disgraced by an incident in which he killed a fellow agent, Fielding Scott (Dominic Cooper, "Preacher"), an operative for the U.K.'s MI-6, gets a chance at "a kind of vindication" when the head of the agency's London bureau, Ian Stuart-Hay (Rupert Vansittart) offers him a new mission.

Scott is tasked with helping East German scientist Manfred Ziegler (Wanja Mues) defect. As it happens, the two were childhood friends.

Since Ziegler is working with the Russians to develop a guidance system for their intercontinental ballistic missiles, he represents an asset they are loath to lose. To extract Ziegler, Scott cooperates closely with French agent Severine Bloch (Romane Portail) – with whom he's also carrying on an affair.

Scott's secretary, Eliza Hahn (Leonie Benesch), tries to leverage what she knows about this illicit romance to blackmail the duo. She intends to use the money she extorts to finance her escape to Britain, along with that of her boyfriend, protest singer Reinhart (Ben Munchow).

For all its seaminess, "Spy City" is, at its core, an old-fashioned tale. Thus, far from reveling in the ruthless actions he undertakes, Scott, narrowly focused on his work, accepts them as the price of success. He also manages to uncover rank, greed-driven corruption among highly placed government officials.

Alexandre maintains a quick pace, and the period details – the series was shot in Prague – feel spot on. Those willing to contend with the program's unsavory aspects, moreover, will be rewarded with a memorable and thought-provoking wrap-up.

Byrd is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.