Viewer’s Discretion: ‘1983’ and ‘Bancroft’

‘1983’ (NETFLIX)

This Polish series is alternative history science fiction, telling the story of a dystopian world where the Iron Curtain never fell and Poland is the center of the universe, but in doing so, manages to ask some more subtle questions about political control that are rewarding over the course of the series.

The title refers to the year that Poland, which was looking ahead at the crumbling of the Iron Curtain, at democracy, at freedom from Russia, met with a great disaster that sent it on a different course into the future. Terrorist attacks of a 9–11 variety do the work of escalating national pride and protectionism and allowing the Communist government to double down on its control, offering security to a nation of people who are scared of the unknown that change brings in.

Jetting ahead to the 21st century, the series centers around policeman Anatol (Robert Wieckiewicz), who is investigating a suicide that he believes was a political murder. This puts him in contact with Kajetan (Maciej Musial ), a law student who also serves as one of the nation’s symbols in regard to the disaster. Much like John F. Kennedy Jr. at his father’s funeral, Poland remembers Kajetan as the boy placing flowers on his parents’ coffins after they were killed in the attacks. But Kajetan’s views are changing, following the death of his professor, and new contact with a childhood friend, who is involved with a rebellion movement.

“1983″ ends up drawing parallels to our own country in strong and frankly depressing ways, examining the stirring of nationalism as a means of control, and also the use of technology to stifle dissent and maintain order. It’s a cautionary tale that is intelligently and atmospherically laid out, though possibly too late to make a difference.


There is no one better at playing cold fishes than British actress Sarah Parish. One of her best turns was in the comedy “W1A,” where she was a hilarious marvel as an aloof, entitled BBC executive. In “Bancroft,” she takes her talent to a much darker soul, DCI Elizabeth Bancroft, a one-woman force within the police whose years-long distinguished career is taking her on a meteoric rise to the top. There’s just one problem — she’s got some secrets and they’re bad ones.

All is fine within the station — Bancroft’s got a sting going that’s likely to take down a local organized crime boss — until Detective Sergeant Katherine Stevens (Faye Marsay) is given a pile of cold cases to work through and the trail of her first assignment begins to wind its way around Bancroft, possibly ruining her career.

Over the four episodes, we slowly find out just how unhinged Bancroft is, and how Stevens’ revelations are going to affect other lives based on just how desperate Bancroft becomes to save her reputation and cling to her ascendency within the force.

That Bancroft is involved is not a mystery — they thankfully make that plain from the first episode — but the mystery lies in what her involvement is and how that links to the totality of her dysfunction. It’s a fun police procedural that turns the tables, creating an internal nightmare investigation, and hinging it on the performance of someone who can well portray losing it through absolute control.

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