Beck enjoys reading, drawing, and gaming, as well as science and bugs. Her favorite TV shows are Supernatural and The Untamed. She has a lizard named...
Netflix’s Transatlantic: Telling the Story of Heros
May 19, 2023
World War Two was a tragic but transfixing time in history, so there have been many films, books, and television productions covering events and people from that time. Movies like The Darkest Hour, Hacksaw Ridge, Dunkirk, Catch-22, Band of Brothers, and Grave of the Fireflies covered different battles, perspectives, and periods in the war. Sometimes the media is based on real stories and people, but other times there’s creative liberty.
That’s where Netflix’s show Transatlantic comes in. The show follows Mary Jayne Gold (Gillian Jacobs), a wealthy American journalist living in France during the German occupation in 1940. Mary works with the Emergency Rescue Committee that helps refugees escape to the United States. Assisting her is Varian Fry (Cory Michael Smith), an American journalist sent to France by the rescue organization.
Mary’s character is based on the true-life story of a woman by the same name. The show is dedicated to the real Varian Fry who in his lifetime helped around 2,000 people escape France to safety in the US. He was the first American to be named “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, and is also honored by other different Holocaust memorials for his acts in rescuing Jewish people. He was also awarded the “Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur” which is the highest French Order of Merit, by the French government.
The show’s first episode introduces us to the other characters, including Albert Hirschman, a Jewish man (played by Lucas Englander) who was wanted for helping other Jewish people, artists, and intellectuals escape France. Mary receives a letter from her father saying that if she continues staying in France she will be cut off from the funds given to her by her father, as she is the heiress of his fortune and has been using the funds to help refugees.
She and Varian have been trying to get 200 refugees (mainly people targeted by the Nazis, including Jewish people, intellectuals, and artists) on a ship to America using rowboats and the cargo hold of another ship. Mary meets Albert’s sister Lena and offers to give them safe passage out of France.
However, things go awry as the police raid the place where the earlier refugees were boarding and only 11 are allowed passage through visas. After bribing the police chief to bail out the refugees, Albert and Lena return to Marseilles, France, with an idea to transport people over a mountain pass in Spain. That’s when they learn that all refugees on French soil must be surrendered to the “Third Reich,” Hitler’s police, setting things up for the stakes to get even higher as will be seen in the rest of the season.
I rarely get nervous while watching TV shows, but I was definitely engaged to see what happened to these characters. There were a lot of “what-ifs” in this episode that made me anxious and on the edge of my seat. The writers certainly had plenty of true-life history (as the show is based on a 2019 book, The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer) to build suspense, but they also add some embellishments to keep the audience gripped with tension.
Although the topic of the show is incredibly somber and dramatic, it also has a feeling of adventure and hope. I even found myself rooting for the people depicted in the show even though I’d just been introduced to them. Reviewer Joel Keller on the site Decider said, “Hendler and Winger [creators of the show] looked to tell the story of this European underground railroad in a way that celebrates the efforts of everyone that helped get the Jewish refugees out of the clutches of the Nazis, or at least the French authorities executing German orders, with intrigue, romance, and even some humor.”
There are seven episodes in season one, and it is unlikely that it will be renewed on Netflix. The creators, Hendler and Winger, originally intended for it to be just a limited run show. Sometimes shows aren’t meant to go on forever and they do, so I’d be okay if they ended it when they thought it was right.
So far, the show has a 94% positive rating on the review site Rotten Tomatoes.
I would recommend this show to really anyone who enjoys dramas, even if history-based media or historical fiction isn’t typically what you watch. I only watch specific historical dramas and I was surprised at how much I liked Transatlantic. I would give the show a 4.5 or 5 out of 5.