NEW YORK -- Sundance Channel, best known for its documentaries and other unscripted fare, is about to present a deliciously suspenseful spy thriller that signals a new initiative for the network: more drama.
Restless, a two-part miniseries that begins 8 p.m. Friday, would be an attention-getter if for no other reason than its blue-chip cast. Here's delectable Hayley Atwell ( Captain America: The First Avenger) along with veteran thesps Michael Gambon and Charlotte Rampling, as well as Rufus Sewell ( The Pillars of the Earth). Plus Michelle Dockery, whose return next month as Lady Mary Crawley is eagerly awaited by all Downton Abbey fans.
But there is more to recommend Restless than its fine troupe of actors. Based on the bestselling novel by William Boyd, it weaves a double strand of intrigue set at the eve of World War II and in the 1970s.
The show begins in 1976 with Ruth Gilmartin (Dockery), a defiantly independent single mother and budding academic who is shocked to learn that the mother she has always known as Sally Gilmartin is actually former spy Eva Delectorskaya. After decades living quietly under the radar, Eva (Rampling) fears that her cover has recently been blown and that her life is in danger.
The story, dense and brooding, intercuts between its dual time frames. Young Eva (Atwell), an unsuspecting Russian emigre in pre-war Paris, transforms herself into a skilled secret agent with a new identity and a perilous objective (and, by the way, a steamy romance). A generation later, Ruth is being drafted to explore her mother's past while stewing over existential doubts: Can you ever really know anyone, even your own mother, when the all-too-routine human tendency is to seek safe refuge behind secrecy and falsehoods?
But even with the thrumming air of paranoia that powers it, the film boasts a corresponding stylishness, whether it's Ruth's circa-'70s bell bottoms or young Eva's 1940s cosmopolitan chic.