Does every international power have blood on its hands? AMC+’s stylish Spy City poses the question as it delves into the assassinations, double-crosses, ulterior motives and secret agendas of the four countries carving up Berlin before the wall is erected in 1961.
Berlin is a snake pit of American, British, French and Russian spies, diplomats and military officers - all pushing their own agendas as the city is divided into four occupied zones. Meanwhile, British agent Fielding Scott (Dominic Cooper) is on a mission to organize the clandestine exfiltration of an East German scientist.
SPYSCAPE extracts 10 secrets you likely don’t know about the Cold War spy series, its slick stars and the tumultuous events of 1961 that helped shape history.
1. British actor Dominic Cooper worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company but he just can’t get enough of spy thrillers. In addition to playing an MI6 agent in Spy City (above) he starred as a naval spy in Stratton: “I loved learning how to drive the speedboats. I loved the skills which were so important to learn, very specifically with the weapons work. The Special Boat Service, like the US Navy Seals, go from deep-sea diving onto boats, onto land carrying all of their equipment, and then have to be extraordinarily focused in an environment that is terribly volatile… I loved the training.”
2. Fielding Scott’s past soon catches up with him in Spy City. In the first episode, we learn that our hero is hunting a traitor. Is it his former French lover Severine Bloch (Romane Portail, above) who he abandoned and tricked into thinking he was dead? Scott may have met his match. Portail is (in real life) an accomplished horse riding competitor with a resume that includes experience in Taekwondo, fencing and trapeze work.
3. Scott and American CIA agent Conrad Greer (Seumas F. Sargent) served during World War II, but that was long ago. “The new world order might not quite align the same way,” Scott muses at one point. Indeed, Greer may well be hiding secrets. The CIA agent is part of a joint operation to smuggle scientist Manfred ‘Beethoven’ Ziegler (Wanja Mues) out of East Germany but Greer's alliances seem to shift. The American actor was born in Boston but now - like his onscreen character - he lives in Germany and speaks Dutch, German and Italian. Kinda makes you wonder who Conrad Greer’s spymaster might really be...
4. Spy City is an original work by William Boyd, the award-winning novelist and playwright who wrote the James Bond continuation novel Solo, so it’s no coincidence that Dominic Cooper channels his gun-wielding Bond best as MI6 agent Fielding Scott. No less than three 007s have starred in movies based on Boyd’s work - Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.
5. While Spy City is set in Berlin the series was actually filmed in Prague and other locations around the Czech Republic. Prague, founded in the 9th century, has a long history as an influential European location for film and television. The Bourne Identity (2002), Mission Impossible (1996), Casino Royale (2006) and McMafia (2018) were all filmed there.
6. Every character in Spy City seems to walk past a billboard advertising Via Mala at one point or another, so what’s the deal? Via Mala was a German crime melodrama movie that involved an assassination and many suspects. It’s a theme Spy City’s Boyd decided to explore in his own screenplay so he gave a nod to the 1961 film.
7. Much of the action in Spy City takes place around the Berlin Wall and in the four allied zones occupied by the US, UK, France and the Soviet Union. The real wall was initially a mesh of barbed wire and concrete erected in East Berlin on August 13, 1961 with improvised barriers like lampposts and tramlines. East Germany added concrete slabs and breeze blocks days later, building a permanent structure to prevent citizens from fleeing to the west. At least 140 people died trying to escape across the wall - many shot by border guards. Others killed themselves once caught rather than face prison. Another 251 travelers died on both sides of the wall before, during or after inspections. The Berlin Wall finally fell in 1989.
8. There were several magnificent escapes from East Berlin including Horst Klein, a professional East German acrobat who used a high-tension cable to walk into West Germany - high above the Berlin Wall and the border guards. Alas, Klein’s wife lured him back saying she couldn’t live without him and he was promptly arrested. (She remarried.) More than 1,300 East German guards are also believed to have deserted, some dressed in uniform pretending to be on official business in the West.
9. Spy City’s trailer teases twists and turns still to come - many of them fatal: “When you are in Berlin people seem to get killed,” Scott is told. “Perhaps it is a Berlin problem,” the suave spy replies. The trailer also throws up a lot of questions: Are Berlin’s spies using the Cold War as an excuse to settle old scores? Are Scott and the CIA’s Conrad Greer friends or foes? Is Scott himself possibly the traitor or does he sometimes use questionable tactics just to get the job done?
10. Cooper, born in 1978, has made no secret of his ambition to play James Bond once Daniel Craig retires: "You can't not want to be James Bond! Has anyone ever said, 'No?' No!” Cooper said in 2020. Cooper has also told Attitude magazine that he considers 007 an astonishing character. “As long as I felt I could bring something else to it, do something dynamic, I’d love the challenge.” In addition to his other spy roles, Cooper has portrayed Bond author Ian Fleming in a four-part British miniseries Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond, which focuses on Fleming’s espionage for the Royal Navy. So could 007 be his next foray? Spy City may be his best audition for the role yet.