Sandra Oh and Robert Downey Jr headline HBO’s The Sympathizer


EDIT 3 June: The Sympathizer has been replaced by Belgravia, a 2020 British Regency and Victorian-era historical drama television series, set in the 19th century, based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Julian Fellowes – both named after Belgravia, an affluent district of London. The limited series, a co-production between Carnival Films and American cable network Epix, is adapted by Fellowes from his novel, and reunites the production team behind Downton Abbey with Gareth Neame and Nigel Marchant executive producing alongside Liz Trubridge and Fellowes. Belgravia is directed by John Alexander, and produced by Colin Wratten.

This is the Vietnam War – but not as you know it. It’s not Adrian Cronauer trying to bring light to a dark situation in Good Morning Vietnam and it’s not Apocalypse Now’s roaring helicopters converging as Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyrie swells. The Sympathizer (coming to M-Net on 3 June at 8pm) tells the story of the Vietnam War from the viewpoint of a Viet Cong spy.

Based on the 2016 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer is part espionage thriller and part cross-culture satire about the struggles of a half-French, half-Vietnamese communist spy who flees to Los Angeles during the final days of the war, where he learns that his spying days aren’t over. He finds himself back in a Vietnamese re-education camp and the story he recounts is part-remembered, part self-structured and part prisoner’s-confession-under-duress.

The cast is headlined by Sandra Oh and Robert Downey Jr – who described the series as his “unwind” having just played the tightly-wound Strauss in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer – but quirkily driven by Hoa Xuande, Fred Nguyen Khan, Toan Le, Phanxinê, Vy Le, Ky Duyen, Kieu Chinh, Duy Nguyen and Alan Trong,

Empire called the series “a big, fiercely intelligent, often very funny, sometimes difficult drama”; The New York Times said it is “kinetic and darkly hilarious” and Vulture – among the many other positives, referred to it as “an acknowledgment of the seductive power of American cultural hegemony accompanied by deep anger at American militarism”. Downey plays multiple characters, of which The Guardian said: “This ambitious identity-and-imperialism saga sees the American actor take on several different roles – and demands your full attention.”

As a novel, The Sympathizer was selected for more than 30 best-of-the-year lists, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Guardian and The Globe and Mail. It featured on Time magazine’s list of  “The 100 Best Mystery and Thriller Books of All Time” and was named one of the best books of the decade by Esquire, among others.

See the Vietnam War from a totally different perspective – with all the drama and a darkly humorous streak – in The Sympathizer on M-Net 101 from Monday 3 June at 8pm. Dive in on your DStv Explora with DStv Catch Up or live stream it on DStv Stream at the appointed time. Visit the M-Net website and join the conversation on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and Facebook.

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