Jun 22, 2015

Tradecraft: James Bond Author William Boyd Creates Cold War Berlin TV Series Spy City

I don't know how I missed this until last week, when it was mentioned as an aside in a Deadline article about a new Gaumont series, Crosshair, but way back in October 2014 it was announced that William Boyd, author of the James Bond novel Solo, would create and write a Cold War espionage TV drama called Spy City! Boyd's other books include the excellent generational spy saga Restless  (which the author adapted into a miniseries with Agent Carter's Hayley Atwell) and what might be my favorite novel so far this century, Any Human Heart. (That one's not a spy novel, though it does feature some spying, and Ian Fleming as a minor character. It was also turned into a miniseries with Atwell, as well as Spooks' Matthew Macfadyan and Casino Royale's Tobias Menzies as Fleming.) Variety and The Hollywood Reporter both reported last year that Boyd would create, write, and showrun the 10-episode English language series set in early Sixties Berlin for the French studio. Germany's Odeon will co-produce, and Pascal Chaumeil (Spiral, A Long Way Down) will direct. According to Variety, Spy City "sheds light on the personal lives of spies and focuses on a group of men and women of different nationalities and backgrounds who are in the 'hornet’s nest' of divided Berlin." THR adds, "Spy City is set in the hottest period of the cold war, when Berlin was the center of the global chess game between the powers of East and West. The series is billed as an intimate look at the men and women who risked everything to become spies."

Divided Berlin is, of course, the absolute perfect setting for a cable series, and I'm really surprised it's taken someone this long to do it! HBO shot a pilot in 2012 for one called The Missionary (co-created by Malcolm Gladwell), but it didn't go to series. And it was announced last month that Epix had greenlit a spy series called Berlin Station created and written by Olen Steinhauer, but that's contemporary. Still, between the two of them, that means that two of my very favorite contemporary novelists both have upcoming 10-episode spy series set in Berlin! And I'm supremely excited for both of them.

Gaumont TV France, whose sister company Gaumont TV International is behind NBC's Hannibal and Netflix's Hemlock Grove, plans to produce one to two English-language European series a year beginning with Spy City. (And Crosshair makes the first two both espionage series!) "In the past few months, many more European-based projects have started coming our way," Gaumont CEO Christopher Riandee told Variety. "Spy City is the perfect English language project for us to produce in Europe and we are thrilled that William Boyd and Pascal Chaumeil are attached to this project,” commented Riandee.  “In addition, with Elizabeth [Dreyer, new head of international co-productions] on board we will be able to focus on additional strong international projects financed and produced out of Europe.”

In addition to being an internationally acclaimed novelist, Boyd is also a successful screenwriter. He co-wrote Richard Attenborough's Oscar-nominated biopic Chaplin (1992), adapted other people's novels into Mister Johnson (1990, starring Pierce Brosnan) and Sword of Honor (2001, starring Daniel Craig), and adapted his own novels A Good Man in Africa (1994, starring Sean Connery and Diana Rigg) and Stars and Bars (1988, not starring any James Bond, but starring Daniel Day-Lewis, which is also pretty good), among many other credits. He wrote and directed The Trench (1999), which also starred Craig. Besides Solo, his recent novels include the WWI espionage tale Waiting for Sunrise, the pharmaceutical thriller Ordinary Thunderstorms, and the short story "The Vanishing Game." The latter, Boyd's homage to John Buchan's The 39 Steps, is a great read and a great introduction to the author, as it's available for free (thanks to Land Rover) as an e-book from Amazon and as an audiobook download from Audible. It's a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it. Most of all, though, I can't wait for Spy City!

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