These great miniseries shine a lavish light on a past that was, that might have been, and that might be.
Babylon Berlin (Netflix; subtitles)
To date, I haven’t seen a series as gorgeously and creatively produced as this German noir-ish take on the Weimar Republic. The Berlin “Cabaret”-style years are the backdrop for this saga of political intrigue and dazzling decadence. There’s a tormented cop, an atypical typist, a great train robbery, and a porn ring. There are debauched parties as well as Communist and Nationalistic ones; there’s treachery, conspiracy, romance, and heroism. Have some glue on the night table to keep your eyelids open.
Once upon a time in the West, there was an isolated mining town terrorized by a ruthless gang led by Jeff Daniels. Cinematography, production values, and suspense are tops. Be warned that things can become very violent, and there’s a certain amount of gore along with a certain amount of romance. The cool thing is that the town is run by women, and the female-style vengeance can blow your brains out.
Occupied (Netflix; subtitles)
Not so much alternate history as alternate current events, this Norwegian geopolitical thriller imagines Russia conducting a “silk glove” invasion of Norway. In its twisty, dramatic unfolding, a new idealistic government pays the price for its environmentally friendly policies by opening the door to plotters both within and without its borders. It was conceived by the great Nordic-noir thriller writer Jo Nesbø. I only watched the first season so far.
A Very English Scandal (Amazon)
This is a brilliant dramatization of the 15 years leading up to the 1979 murder trial of Member of Parliament Jeremy Thorpe. Hugh Grant won many awards for his portrayal of the closeted MP, as did Ben Whishaw as his anguished, working-class lover. What sets this three-episode series apart, besides the terrific acting, is the assured back-and-forth of tones from wacky to tragic.
The Game (Amazon)
In a very John le Carré-ish 1970s London Cold War setting, a KGB defector reveals (or does he?) a dangerously wicked plot. MI-5 assembles a secret group of intel officers to unwind the details, and you become caught up in their lives as well as the race to thwart the evildoers.