Romantic thriller is my jam and Liaison already had me from a brief scene in the trailer when two estranged lovers cross paths again after 20 years. Vincent Cassel and Eva Green have such explosive chemistry even when they silently stare at each other through a rain-splattered window. It’s a dramatic scene full of romantic intrigue, and by this point, the high stakes have been set up that affect not only their lives but also the lives of many in their respective countries.
Liaison is AppleTV’s first Angloy-French production and we’ve got Cassel’s Gabriel Delage on the French side and Green’s Alison Rowdy on the British, specifically the British security office. The story switches back and forth between London and Paris, though the opening scene starts out in Damascus, Syria, in a dilapidated building where a pair of young hackers uncover something sinister and soon had to run for their lives when a bunch of soldiers have the place surrounded. The entire plot hinges on crucial intel involving cybersecurity threats facing Europe, so naturally, Samir (Aziz Dyab) and his cousin Walid (Marco Horanieh) become such coveted assets for both Britain’s Home Office and French’s external security office (DGSE).
I always think that cyber attacks are real threats facing in our world today where hackers can potentially wreak havoc on our infrastructure and kill millions of people from long distances. An unknown terrorist organization launches a series of attacks against Britain, one of them causes a UK train derailment that happens to have the daughter of Alison’s boyfriend on board. The writers wisely take into account some of the ramifications of Brexit as part of the story. As the UK considers signing a new cyber-security deal, a nefarious organization with plans of their own with ties within UK and France must do whatever it takes to stop that from happening.
Created by French novelist-turned-filmmaker Virginie Brac in collaboration with screenwriter Oliver Butcher, and directed by Stephen Hopkins, the series promises a modern high stakes espionage thriller. Yet the first few episodes move a bit too sluggishly that my husband and I almost gave up watching. I did stick with it and thankfully things picked up a bit on the fourth episode.
The show is the most interesting when Cassel and Green are together, though the writers surround them with a darn good cast: Peter Mullan as Alison’s security minister boss Richard Banks, and French actors Irène Jacob as the impeccably-dressed Sophie, Mullan’s French counterpart and Gérard Lanvin as Dumas, Cassel’s boss who heads a private security firm. The espionage aspect is pretty intricate and there are also complications within Alison’s household as her live-in boyfriend Albert (Daniel Francis) is a top-notch human rights lawyer who somehow ends up being hired by Alison’s own department, The mix of business with pleasure also extends to the prominent French government side, as Sophie’s colleague Didier (a smarmy Stanislas Merhar) is using his lover Sabine (Laëtitia Eïdo) to do his dirty work.
As the title suggests, Gabriel and Alison keep getting thrown into the same situations which force them to have to work together despite the dark past they supposedly have. I find it intriguing that whatever secrets these two people are concealing could have such an expansive political impact spanning multiple countries. So what past are we dealing with here? The show keeps teasing us about what had happened between them, as the plot hinges on the protagonists’ past mistakes. But the way the showrunners continually tantalize us with just bits of information gets quite frustrating.
I’m a big fan of spy thrillers and this one seems to be more in the vein of John le Carré’s spy movies than the action-heavy James Bond franchise. I don’t mind that the series relies more on dialogue and strategy instead of mere action spectacle, but I expect a more energetic pace than the leisurely one we get here. It also takes itself way too seriously, stripping every ounce of levity out of all six episodes. I mean, I don’t expect one-liners or anything like that, but a little dose of wit and humor can’t hurt. For the most part, the actors look way too morose, especially Green who looks rather lethargic here. The charismatic Cassel has a few amusing scenes when he’s in disguise whether he’s seducing a government official for information or making faces with a baby, but he mostly broods and sulks the entire time.
Liaison is no doubt a good-looking series with stellar production values and glamorous locations: Paris! London! Brussels! At one point, two French allies meet up on a boat along the Seine overlooking the Eiffel tower. It wasn’t a riveting scene at all but the view is to die for! The series proves that a great cast can only do so much without a sharp script behind it, and that’s what’s sorely lacking here. Unfortunately, a sloppy script, uneven direction and overly somber tone keep this from being a captivating series. It barely holds a candle to similar spy series like The Night Manager, TEHRAN, and Little Drummer Girl, which are filled with gripping scenarios from start to finish.
For fans of the spy genre, I say it’s still worth a watch, but go in with tempered expectations that the series doesn’t quite live up to its full potential, despite the stellar cast and high production values.
Have you seen LIAISON? I’d love to hear what you think!
11 thoughts on “LIAISON (2023) review: AppleTV+’s first Anglo-French spy series is more tedious than thrilling despite its stellar cast”
Damn…. with a cast like this. I expected so much more. At least there’s more time devoted to Ted Lasso and Atlanta United FC on Apple TV+ as they just beat Portland Timbers 5-1 as we’re now 3-0-1 so far in the season. We’re off to a good start. How is your futbol club doing? I’ve heard good things about them.
I know! I love Cassel and Green and they’re still the reason to give this a try.
I LOVE the first ep of Ted Lasso! You’re asking about Minnesota futbol club?? Boy I’m not a sports gal so I have no idea… in fact I don’t even know if you’re referring to Vikings or another team, mwahahahaha!!
It’s the Minnesota United FC. So far this season, you’re 2-0-1 which is a good start. Support your futbol club (I refuse to call it soccer). I do like your Vikings. Way more than the Falcons as we’re just awfully inconsistent.
Hey, I’m learning something from you!! Funny but I don’t follow futbol at all (though I agree that I won’t call it soccer, ahahaha). The stadium is actually not far from my house and I often pass by it! 😀
The truth about David Cornwell aka John le Carré seems to be that despite being a brilliant author and the undisputed emperor of the espionage fiction genre, he was an imperfect spy. He had more Achilles heels than he had toes and was caught out by Kim Philby.
An interesting “news article” dated 31 October 2022 exists about some of his perceived shortcomings in this regard (pardon the unintentional quip). It’s entitled Pemberton’s People, Ungentlemanly Officers & Rogue Heroes and can be found on TheBurlingtonFiles website.
While visiting the site do check out Beyond Enkription. It is an intriguing raw and noir fact-based spy thriller and it’s a must read for espionage cognoscenti but what would it have been like if David Cornwell had collaborated with Bill Fairclough? Even though they didn’t collaborate, Beyond Enkription is still described as ”up there with My Silent War by Kim Philby and No Other Choice by George Blake”. Not surprising really – Fairclough was never caught.
Hi MI6, wow I had no idea le Carré was a real spy at one point. Interesting tidbit about Kim Philby, who’s been portrayed on screen many times.
This one isn’t by le Carré btw, but it’s more in the vein of his works which is the less glamorous spy life than James Bond 😉
Ruth – Do check out Jackson Lamb (Mick Herron – Slow Horses) … the modern Smiley and Edward Burlington (Bill Fairclough – Beyond Enkription) … the modern Bond … in some people’s eyes! Mick’s books are on TV now and Bill’s are yet to get there.
Bummer that the show turned out to be dud, I’d put on my to watch list, I may not watch it now. Maybe when I run out of other shows to watch, I’ll get to this one. Lol!
It’s not a complete dud, just a little disappointing. If you like the genre and the cast, I think it’s still worth a look, Ted.
I just got Apple TV back and I saw this on the home page. Now I won’t waste my time. There’s so many other things I need to watch already.
There are indeed SO MANY THINGS to watch on streaming. I barely even had time to watch Extrapolations screeners before it came out but that’s one I have high hopes for, hopefully it won’t disappoint!