Romanian espionage with Spy/Master on BBC Four

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Romanian espionage show Spy/Master

Do you love spy fiction? Do you thrive on subtitles? How does a Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy vibe grab you? If we’re speaking your language then you’ll be thrilled to discover that the Romanian series Spy/Master starts on BBC Four in the UK at 9pm on Saturday 4 May, with a double bill. Check out this stunning trailer:

The year is 1978 and at the centre of the story is Victor Godeanu, masterfully acted by Alec Secǎreanu, who is chief aide to the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu (Claudiu Bleont). Cold War tension is ramping up and Ceauşescu is increasingly paranoid that there’s a mole in his administration and, in fact, Victor is a KGB asset.

With his cover about to be blown, Victor reaches out to American intelligence while on a diplomatic mission in Germany. Now he’s doubled the danger – because if the CIA don’t agree to flip him, either the KGB or Ceauşescu’s secret police will eliminate him. Such a senior defection could bolster Jimmy Carter’s position politically and in terms of the Cold War. However, there are further complications as Carter is struggling to keep alive the Camp David Accord between Egypt and the Israeli state.

Romanian espionage show Spy/Master
Ceausescu and his wife Elena (Cerris Morgan-Moyer) will be furious.

While the American agent Frank Jackson (Parker Sawyers) works to protect Victor during his defection, his enemies begin to hunt Victor down, and his wife and daughter back in Bucharest are put in danger. Help comes from an unlikely source in the form of Stasi agent Ingrid Von Weizendorff played by Svenja Jung, previously seen in Deutschland 89.

All Victor can do while he’s in the crosshairs is trade information to save himself and his family, because between East and West there’s nobody he can really trust.

Filmed in Romania and Hungary, the series captures the 70s aesthetic nicely with its big collars, boxy automobiles, haircuts and brown on brown colour palettes, mixed in with a little totalitarian architecture. Lead actor Alec Secǎreanu portrays the confidence of a high ranking government official who slip-slides in terror between various threats, riding his luck like the spooks created by John le Carré. Along with the stylish sets and great acting, there’s plenty of atmosphere and suspense to pull you through, and there’s a hint of history repeating in the present day with the Middle East angle.

The story loosely mirrors the defection of Ion Mihai Pacepa, a Romanian general, to the West in 1978. This episode damaged Ceauşescu’s standing in the Eastern Bloc and led him to ramp up both espionage and diplomacy in the West.

Made by HBO Romania in 2023, the series has excellent production values and some of its scenes were shot in both Romanian and English. There are six 50-minute episodes to enjoy, and they’ll be available on BBC iPlayer too. It has already aired on HBO Max in the US.

Also see Amazon’s Romanian cop show, Comrade Detective.

Romanian espionage show Spy/Master
Stasi agent Ingrid has a soft spot for Victor.

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