A spent, middle-aged former Oxford historian is attending a conference in Moscow on the newly opened Soviet archives. What begins as an idle inquiry at the Lenin Library quickly entangles him in a series of murders that appear to be drawing nearer to him. This enthralling series, based on the novel by Robert Harris, marries historical intrigue with political conspiracies to create a truly captivating drama.
But it might never have been made.
Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, the writers behind popular comedies such as The Likely Lads and Porridge, had acquired the film rights to Harris’ 1998 thriller novel. Their aim was to sell it to a major production company as a full-length feature. However, despite their best efforts, there was little interest in the project for several years. Then, in 2003, the success of Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, prompted publishers and filmmakers to look for similar material, and Archangel was finally given the attention it deserved.
The story revolves around the gripping experience of Dr. Christopher ‘Fluke’ Kelso, played by a pre-James Bond Daniel Craig. As Kelso embarks on his research trip to Moscow, little does he know that his path will intersect with a captivating secret. At the Moscow conference, Kelso is approached by an elderly man, Papu Rapava, who claims that as a young soldier in 1953, he was employed as a bodyguard to Joseph Stalin. He witnessed Lavrentiy Beria, a Soviet politician who would later rise to be one of the senior leaders of the Soviet state, steal a key from the dying Stalin, using it to retrieve a notebook from Stalin's private safe. Burying the notebook inside a toolbox in Beria's yard, Rapava was sworn to secrecy.
Gordon decides to investigate the truth behind Stalin’s legacy, with the help of Rapava's estranged daughter Zinaida (Yekaterina Rednikova) and a curious and dubious TV journalist (Gabriel Macht). When Rapava is murdered, their search takes on darker overtones leading them to uncover secrets and dangers that some people would rather keep hidden. This discovery sets off a chain of events that will test Kelso's resilience while evoking a sense of danger that is palpable throughout the show.
One of the most impressive aspects of Archangel is its ability to seamlessly blend historical facts with fiction. The show offers a compelling alternate history that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats, questioning every twist and turn. The production effortlessly balances moments of intense action and suspense with quieter, character-driven scenes, allowing viewers to emotionally invest in the story and its multifaceted characters. The intelligent writing and well-executed plot twists ensure that there is never a dull moment, ensuring the audience remains engaged from start to finish.
The production team behind Archangel takes great care in recreating the bustling streets of Moscow, with filming taking place (partly) on location in Moscow and Riga, Latvia, it transports viewers to a post-Soviet world imbued with a sense of atmosphere and authenticity. The visuals are further enhanced by a haunting score evoking the tension and mystery of each episode. Its intricate storytelling, remarkable performances, and meticulous attention to detail make it a must-watch for fans of historical dramas and political thrillers alike.
Published on September 25th, 2023. Written by Marc Saul for Television Heaven.