Channel 4’s new Walter Presents season has brought many gems from around the globe to our TV screens, but it’s most entertaining new programme Deutschland ’83, is an absolute must-see. It follows up-and-coming German actor Jonas Nay as Martin, a Stasi officer from Soviet East Germany who is forced to go undercover as a spy in liberal West Germany to obtain secret Cold War information for his East German colleagues. Although it may sound like an average spy drama, Deutschland ’83 is tense, humorous, and endlessly entertaining.
The first striking quality of this programme is the soundtrack. When asked by NME why she chose the year 1983, creator Anna Winger commented, “because it’s the only year I remember listening to any German music”. It’s true that the music is a very big part of Deutschland ’83—the soundtrack features a brilliantly eclectic mix of well-known classics that really builds the essence of (West) Germany in the 1980s—from New Order to Tears for Fears. As for German music, the opening theme sports a dreamy, synth-laden tune by artist Peter Schilling (the title of the track interestingly named ‘Major Tom’).
What is more, the acting in this series is fantastic—Nay as the protagonist, Martin, gives an incredibly versatile performance; his talents ranging from absolute terror at some of the situations that he is forced into, to humorous bemusement. There is a particularly witty scene in one of the episodes where he, as a resident of East Germany, is flummoxed at the idea of the new technological invention, the Walkman. The cast are unknown to UK viewers, but each of them work wonderfully well together and as a result should be earning more recognition further afoot from Germany. Maria Schrader is menacing and sinister as Martin’s stylish but overbearing aunt, Lenora, and co-star Ludwig Trepte is equally as praise-worthy for his performance as the General’s rebellious and confused son Alex.
Another quality of Deutschland ’83 is that it shows a side of the Cold War that is often overlooked—the extent to which normal people were mercilessly used like pawns in the game of the Cold War. Like most creative programmes, there is no black and white predictability of binary oppositions. Instead, there are only characters whom each have different motives—each one is a different cog turning in the political machine, and it is totally possible to empathise with each of them. And it is not only the Cold War as the catalyst to these problems, as another impending issue of the 1980s raises its head in later episodes.
All in all, Deutschland ’83 makes for a fantastic Sunday night watch. Far from a dry Cold War drama, its apt soundtrack, stylish structure and outstanding acting makes for a hugely entertaining programme to get into. Nearing the end of its series as it comes to a close in next week’s finale, catch this spark of a show while you can.