Netflix for Mature Watching: 'Traitors' and 'Lady J'
Of late, it would seem that Netflix programming is skewed towards the YA, and even younger kids, audience. New titles like The Perfect Date, No Good Nick, Shadow Hunters, The Princess Switch, and The Order outnumbering those meant for the more mature viewer, with weightier subject matters than first love, witchcraft, or teenage hi-jinks. So let’s take a look at two of those ‘rare birds.'
With a strong pedigree - created and written by Bash Doran who gave us Boardwalk Empire, and directed by Dearbhla Walsh who directed The Tudors and was the first woman director for a Fargo episode––comes a new 6-episode, espionage period series, Traitors. Set in London 1945, right at the end of World War II, there’s a very strong sense of time and place for a period that hasn't been highlighted often; as it’s one of those in-between junctures of history. The Cold War hasn’t officially started, but the seeds of paranoia, suspicion, and mistrust are being planted. Socialism is at the height of its popularity, with Labour’s Clement Atlee defeating Tory Winston Churchill at the general election. And hot on the table, is the issue of the founding of a Jewish state in Palestine.
Into this scenario, we’re introduced to Feef Symonds (Emma Appleton), daughter of a Member of Parliament, who was in training by the British and Americans to be dropped behind enemy lines on account of her proficient French––but, is now at a loss on what to do. She ends up in the Home Office, and on account of her previous romantic entanglement with an American officer, it isn’t long before OSS operative Rowe (Michael Stuhlbarg) is recruiting her to ‘spy’ on the British and Russian allies.
Appleton is a 5’ 11” actress/model who we’ve seen working for Victorian Beckham and The Kooples. She’s the best thing here, a plucky and free-minded young woman thrust into a world where she’s out of her depth. Stuhlbarg is one of those solid actors (he was the father in Call Me By Your Name), and does fine here as a despicable manipulator and sleazy charmer. There is an over-strong sense of hindsight with a lot of the proceedings seeming to foreshadow how a Donald Trump and Brexit could happen today. If you love John le Carre, you’ll appreciate where Traitors is coming from.
With beautiful, lush scenery thanks to the film being shot on location in the Loire Valley, this Netflix French TV co-production is extremely easy on the eye. It’s a period drama––18th century––that talks about royal courtship and domestic arrangements, has an upstairs/downstairs element, and works on the premise of upper-class misbehavior and snobbery. As such, it doesn’t feel prissy or outdated, but has themes and sentiments relevant to this day. And I hope you aren’t intimidated by subtitles. It’s loosely based on a story written by Denis Diderot.
Madame de la Pommeraye (Cecile de France) is an elegant widow, courted by her friend, the Marquis de Arcis (Edouard Baer), a known libertine and womanizer. A relationship develops but before long, he’s restless and they part, ostensibly on friendly terms. But in fact she wishes to serve Revenge; and this involves a fallen woman, the Madame de Joncquieres, and her beautiful daughter, the Mademoiselle de Joncquieres (the luminous Alice Isaaz).
If you like films like Dangerous Liaisons, Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship, or even last year’s The Favourite, you may enjoy Lady J. Just know that the first half of the film is rather ‘talk-ie’ as the Madame and the Marquis spend countless minutes talking of love and seduction in a philosophical manner. It’s when the wheels of revenge are set in motion that the movie perks up. And there’s strong ambiguity here, as not all will sympathize with the Madame’s scheming, despite the roguish behavior of the Marquis.
Photos from Netflix