A Shallow Take on World War II Rescue Efforts: An Evaluation of Netflix’s “Transatlantic”

Anna Winger, co-creator of “Unorthodox,” presents a new limited series focused on Varian Fry and Mary Jayne Gold’s brave efforts to save European artists and intellectuals during the Holocaust. Agent Elvis, an animated spy comedy, is the opposite of Netflix’s latest limited series, Transatlantic. The latter follows a different storyline with an inverted plot compared to the former. A Shallow Take on World War II Rescue Efforts: An Evaluation of Netflix’s “Transatlantic”

A Shallow Take on World War II Rescue Efforts: An Evaluation of Netflix’s “Transatlantic”

Agent Elvis offered a comical premise, entertaining genre twists, and a historically precise masturbating chimp. However, the series also provided an unexpected and in-depth examination of 1960s and ’70s esotericism that kept viewers engaged.

The historical context surrounding Transatlantic, a lesser-known facet of 1930s and ’40s European cultural esoterica, drew me in. However, the series primarily focused on entertaining genre hijinks, surreal elements, and a lovable (and historically accurate) pup.

I highly recommend Transatlantic on Netflix if it promised that every viewer would be inspired to learn more about Varian Fry, Mary Jayne Gold, and Villa Air-Bel’s story after watching.

Transatlantic, a collaboration between Anna Winger and Daniel Handler, delivers a delightful adventure story with a classical Hollywood-style romance and a lighthearted tone that downplays the Holocaust’s somberness. Despite dealing with such a weighty topic, the series manages to entertain, proving itself to be more enjoyable than one would expect from a summary of the subject matter. However, while it provides a cursory understanding of the historical events it depicts, the show barely scratches the surface, leaving viewers wanting more. The series may leave a lasting impression, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that there’s so much more to the story.

Although not entirely unknown, the story of Varian Fry, Mary Jayne Gold, and the Villa Air-Bel is still relatively little-known among the general public. The PBS documentary, The U.S. and the Holocaust, gave it some coverage, but it was only a brief segment. However, the story has been well-documented in numerous books. Transatlantic takes inspiration from Julie Arranger’s novel, The Flight Portfolio, which was based on the true events. The series only credits it as “inspired by,” which is telling, as it deviates from the source material quite a bit. While it retains the essence of the story, the series takes significant liberties with the events, creating a wholly new narrative.

Set in 1940 Marseille, Transatlantic follows Varian Fry, played by Cory Michael Smith, as he works alongside the Emergency Rescue Committee to save a select group of European writers, authors, and thinkers from falling into the hands of the Nazis. Fry’s goal is to secure legal visas and transportation for those under his protection while navigating the complexities of American neutrality. However, this proves challenging, as any misstep could upset the delicate balance, as exemplified by Consul Graham Patterson, played by Corey Stoll, who represents American neutrality. Fry must tread carefully to ensure the safety of those he aims to protect.

Mary Jayne Gold, a Chicago heiress, joins Varian Fry’s mission to rescue European refugees in Marseille. Using her father’s wealth, Gold and her loyal wire fox terrier Dagobert are willing to go beyond legal boundaries, using bribes and seduction to help their cause, while Fry remains more cautious.

The story of Varian Fry and Mary Jayne Gold’s heroic rescue mission is told over seven episodes with no clear timeline. As they navigate the complex political landscape of Marseille during the height of World War II, they realize that they must push the boundaries of what is possible and necessary to save as many refugees as they can. Along the way, they meet a variety of real and composite characters, including resistance fighter Albert, American attaché Hiram Bingham, courageous Lisa Fittko, North African hotel concierge Paul, and Thomas, a British man with a connection to Fry’s past, who all help them in their mission.

The involvement of Thomas leads the group to the Villa Air-Bel, a dilapidated chateau that served as a temporary refuge for a number of famous European artists and intellectuals fleeing persecution.

Transatlantic is a series that oscillates between its aim to educate viewers about the Nazi resistance and to offer a surreal experience. While it is more effective at the former, it can be both humorous and exasperating in the latter.

Transatlantic takes inspiration from the classic romantic thriller Casablanca, evident in its structure, characterizations and bittersweet narrative. However, the show falls short in the essential element that made Casablanca a timeless masterpiece – the dialogue. Instead, Transatlantic substitutes witty banter with a series of break-outs, escapes and mini-heists. The show features a host of characters – preening Nazis, sniveling French collaborators, noble and nefarious rogues – adding to the sense of fun and adventure. While the show’s plot is enjoyable, it lacks the depth and emotional resonance that made Casablanca a cinematic classic.

As a reviewer, I often criticize shows for being too long, but in the case of Transatlantic, I find it too short. The individual escapades are enjoyable, but none of them leave a lasting impression, and the romantic subplots fail to capture my interest. Despite this, the series remains entertaining throughout.

The Marseille settings in Transatlantic are captured with glossy tourism appeal rather than conveying the looming danger. The show’s fast pace and compressed timeline leave little room for understanding Fry and Gold’s actions, let alone grasping the full extent of the operation. Several real-life figures are marginalized or erased, including Miriam Davenport, a prominent American artist. As a result, the series fails to convey the true scope and complexity of the events it portrays.

Jacobs’ contemporary style is utilized in Transatlantic to highlight Gold’s modernity and her struggle to assert herself during a period where women’s voices were often silenced. Jacobs’ attire, designed by Justine Seymour, evokes the fashion of a 1940s Warner Bros. starlet. Her character’s comedic moments, particularly those involving her beloved dog Dagobert, add a lighthearted touch to the story.

Fry’s character in Transatlantic lacks depth and emotional resonance compared to that of Gold. While the show explores Gold’s modernity, it doesn’t delve into Fry’s past or motivations. Smith manages to portray Fry’s inner turmoil and ambiguity in a convincing manner. However, the lack of chemistry between Fry and his love interest diminishes the impact of their relationship. In contrast, the dynamic between Gold, Fry, and Stoll as the representation of American neutrality is compelling and adds layers to the narrative.