TV Review: Archangel

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Those itching to see Daniel Craig, the reigning James Bond, before the Nov. 14 release of "Quantum of Solace" can catch him in a three-hour adaptation of "Archangel," a novel by Robert Harris.

The special effects are more spartan, the plot is less intricate and the locales are downright depressing, but Craig gets to exercise a variety of acting muscles in a fascinating and not-so-far-fetched story of Russian political intrigue.

In this British production filmed in Russia and Latvia with a large Russian cast, Craig plays former Oxford historian Fluke Kelso, who is ending a tour of Russia with a group of fellow academics. He encounters an old man, a former bodyguard of Josef Stalin, who tells him about papers and diaries that were buried immediately after the dictator's death.

The papers provide evidence that Stalin had a son who has remained hidden but is ready to lead the nation to power and greatness. (DNA testing would be even more conclusive, but it doesn't offer the adventure of chasing after historical documents and exchanging them at gunpoint.)

Stalin is blamed for more than 20 million murders, so you'd think Russians would be aghast to learn that his family tree is still bearing fruit. Then again, recent democratic reforms haven't taken, and there remains widespread Russian nostalgia for the good old days of Soviet repression and domination.

Craig's Kelso is no Indiana Jones. His scholarly bent renders even his relationship with his sexy co-star (Yekaterina Rednikova), the daughter of the former Stalin bodyguard, practically platonic. Then again, everything about this program from director Jon Jones is cold, drab and gray, creating an aura that is consistently menacing and vaguely dangerous.

The program is presented as three consecutive one-hour episodes.
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