Transatlantic, a historical Netflix drama series created by Anna Winger, premieres on Netflix on April 7. Set in Marseille in the months after the Nazi occupation of Paris, the series tells the story of American journalist Varian Fry’s Emergency Rescue Committee, a forerunner of the International Rescue Committee, and their efforts to save European artists and intellectuals from the Third Reich.
The story is told through the eyes of Mary Jayne Gold, portrayed by Gillian Jacobs, a Chicago heiress who defies her father’s orders to return home and instead becomes involved in the ERC’s mission to save lives by any means necessary.
Along with Varian and German-Jewish Resistance hero Albert Hirschman, played by Lucas Englander, Mary Jayne works to get as many vulnerable people out of France as possible, using a variety of routes, allies, and tactics.
While the show delves into the moral, political, and practical choices that unite and divide the characters, it spends too much time on bureaucratic logistics and familiar romance narratives, ultimately glossing over the revolutionary art, ideas, and personalities for which the ERC risked everything.
Though the storylines of the main characters’ love lives are meant to ground the show emotionally, they come across as banal compared to the extraordinary stories of the artists and intellectuals who were saved.
While some of the icons, such as Max Ernst and Walter Benjamin, become characters for an episode or two, the series focuses more on the logistics of their cases rather than the revelations of their art and philosophy, which the Nazis found so threatening. They end up feeling like eccentric rescue-of-the-week fodder, rather than the revolutionary thinkers they were.
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Overall, Transatlantic tells an inspiring story of individual bravery in the face of overwhelming evil. However, it falls short in fully exploring the complexities of the situation and the remarkable figures at the center of the ERC’s mission.