At this time last year Sundance premiered the terrific dramatic movie "Appropriate Adult." The cable network is now two-for-two with another strong drama entry, the four-hour miniseries "Restless" (9 p.m. Friday and Dec. 14).
Based on the novel by William Boyd, this period piece jumps back and forth in time between the 1970s and 1940s.
In the 1970s, Ruth Gilmartin (Michelle Dockery, who plays Lady Mary on "Downton Abbey") learns her mother, Sally (Charlotte Rampling, "Melancholia"), has been living a double life. Sally was born in Russia as Eva Delectorskaya and became a spy for the British Secret Service in 1939.
Flashbacks show Eva (Hayley Attwell, "Captain America") in spy mode, working for boss Lucas Romer (Rufus Sewell, "Pillars of the Earth") alongside a cadre of colleagues, including Morris Devereux (Adrian Scarborough), who cautions Eva, "When it looks like a Grade A, incontestable, unmistakable suicide, it probably isn't."
The first half of the miniseries spends much of its time setting up the mystery and introducing the characters -- in the past and the future -- while part two features exciting spy games. Neither installment would work without the other but the flashbacks benefit from a stronger dramatic tug.
In the 1970s, Sally believes she's being watched, possibly stalked by those who would have her killed. Is she to be believed? Or is she a delusional old woman, re-living the spy games of her youth when she was known as Eva?
In the 1940s, viewers see Eva learning the tricks of the spy trade and possibly falling in love with one of her superiors.
The first part of the miniseries reaches its climax with Eva traveling to America on a mission that could help draw the United States into World War II. This plot parallels nicely with a scene of Ruth in the 1970s preparing to meet a man who may be the key to her mother's past.
"Restless" could benefit from a little more development of the characters Eva works with -- it would make their stories more meaningful and poignant -- but overall this four-hour miniseries is a strong entry.
Ms. Rampling mesmerizes as a wizened spy who remains spry of mind. Even when her character makes questionable decisions -- pulling a shotgun at an inopportune time, for instance -- Ms. Rampling manages to sell the moment.
Ms. Dockery, the actress who plays Downton's Lady Mary, is cast in a more modern role. She stars in "Restless" as another strong-willed character -- a single mother -- but this time gets to play in a thriller setting that should be a thrill for "Downton" devotees.
Sundance is carried on Comcast's Channel 165 (or 164 on former Adelphia systems), Verizon Fios TV's Channel 392, DirecTV's Channel 558 and DISH Network's Channel 358. Armstrong does not carry Sundance.
A version of this review first appeared in Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. TV writer Rob Owen: email@example.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.