An American wary in London: Keri Russell intrigues again in ‘The Diplomat’

On instantly engrossing Netflix series, the star of ‘The Americans’ is back in foreign affairs as an ambassador to the U.K. who feels out of place

SHARE An American wary in London: Keri Russell intrigues again in ‘The Diplomat’
DIPLOMAT_101_Unit_01783RC.jpg

The pageantry of her job irritates the new U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom (Keri Russell), but her husband (Rufus Sewell) is more accepting on “The Diplomat.”

NETFLIX

We’re only a minute or two into the first scene between Keri Russell as Kate Wyler and Rufus Sewell as her husband Hal in the Netflix limited series “The Diplomat” when we’re sure of it: These two are magnetic together. They could be the anchors for a multi-season run of an instantly engrossing, beautifully filmed, sharply written and wonderfully acted political drama.

Over the course of the eight-episode first season, which ends on a huge reveal/cliffhanger, our initial instincts are confirmed, with showrunner Debora Cahn (“The West Wing,” “Homeland”) creating a rich, textured and sometimes dense and labyrinthine high-stakes thriller featuring outstanding performances by Russell and Sewell, and fine work from the expansive supporting cast.

Admittedly, there are times when one feels the urge to hit pause on the proceedings just to sort out the identity of a few of the minor and yet key players in the drama, as there are at least a dozen recurring characters. Still, thanks to the fine writing and the obligatory scenes in which someone lays out just what’s happening for our benefit, we can keep up with the dizzying array of dramatic developments.

‘The Diplomat’

Untitled

An eight-episode series available Thursday on Netflix.

This is also one great-looking series, with beautiful establishing shots of Washington, D.C., and London, lovely exteriors in the English countryside, and interior sets that replicate the expansive and impressively adorned halls, corridors and countless rooms of Winfield House, the residence of the ambassador of the United States to the United Kingdom.

Five years after the finale of the period-piece espionage drama “The Americans,” which featured Russell’s career-best work, she returns to the international thriller game in fine fashion in this series set in the present day, delivering a knockout performance as a no-nonsense and seasoned diplomat who is about to take a post in Kabul when she learns she’s been assigned to the role of ambassador to the United Kingdom, which is normally a ceremonial role, handed out to wealthy donors. As the aging but still feisty President William Rayburn (Michael McKean) and his chief of staff Billie Appiah (Nana Mensah) explain it to Kate, she’s needed in London immediately to offer sympathy and support to the British government and its people following a horrific attack on a British aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf that has claimed the lives of dozens of men and women.

And with that, Kate is on a government plane to London, accompanied by her suave and dashing husband Hal, who has been an ambassador himself and has either charmed or pissed off virtually every major diplomatic figure and government official with whom he’s crossed paths through the years. As Kate grouses about being assigned the role of “an emotional support dog,” Hal counters, “The president is sending you to stop a war before it starts, not butter a crumpet.”

Actually, it’s a little of each. Amidst all the political negotiations and secret meetings and instances of intrigue and subterfuge, “The Diplomat” has a generous sprinkling of humor, much of it in involving Kate’s utter disdain for the “Cinderella” aspect of the job, e.g., photo shoots for glossy magazines and the wearing of actual dresses to cocktail soirees and high-end dinners. She hates that stuff, whereas the sophisticated and amiable Hal looks like he rolled out of bed wearing an ascot. The banter between Kate and Hal is like something out of a 1930s screwball comedy, though there’s an undercurrent of deep melancholy as well; their marriage might not be as solid as we’d like it to be.

As the death toll mounts, the volatile British Prime Minister Nicol Trowbridge (Rory Kinnear, fantastic) is ready to retaliate against Iran, the presumed aggressor—but then it appears the attack was the work of the Russians, or maybe it was somebody else? We’re introduced to a bevy of intriguing characters along the way, including David Gyasi’s Austin Dennison, the British foreign secretary; Ato Essando’s Stuart Hayford, Kate’s deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in London, and Ali Ahn’s Eidra Park, chief of the CIA station in London. (And that’s just for starters.)

DIPLOMAT_102_Unit_03222RC.jpg

The British prime minister (Rory Kinnear) is eager to retaliate against attackers.

NETFLIX

With each passing episode, we gain insights into the personalities and motivations of Kate and Hal—but also the supporting players. Trowbridge, for example, is initially portrayed as something of a fool and a puppet, but in the skilled hands of Rory Kinnear and with the scripts packed with nuance, we come to see him as something … more. Maybe less. We’ll see. Either way, every time the PM is in a scene, something intriguing is sure to happen.

The same can be said of David Gyasi’s Austin Dennison, the British foreign secretary who becomes Kate’s prime ally, and Ali Ahn’s Eidra Park, who is a badass CIA operative but also deadpan hilarious. The only major complaint we have is the eight episodes go by too fast, leaving us wanting more, now.

The Latest
‘‘That was a rough one,” said Flexen, who had posted a 3.00 ERA over his last three starts. “I thought my stuff was terrible. Terrible execution, especially in big moments. That’s one I’ll try to flush.”
“You get an MVP one night and an All-Star the next night,” Mystics coach Eric Thibault said. “Especially at the position that Angel and Aliyah are playing, you don’t get many breaks.”
The Sky’s three-game losing streak, a symptom of another bad start, begs the question: is a change to the starting lineup needed?
‘‘It means the world,’’ said Kuhl, who nearly a year ago was designated for assignment by the Nationals after a rough outing.