Mostly set in the Nazi-occupied French coastal town of St. Malo in 1944, the four-episode miniseries follows the lives of two teenagers. There’s the blind French teenager named Marie-Laure LeBlanc (Aria Mia Loberti), who broadcasts an illegal radio show each night in hopes of locating her missing father, Daniel (Mark Ruffalo), once the keeper of the locks at the Museum of Natural History in Paris, or her uncle Etienne (Hugh Laurie), a member of the French Resistance. Then there’s Werner Pfennig (Louis Hofmann), a German orphan who was forced to join the Nazis because of his proficiency with radio technology.
As young people, both Marie-Laure and Werner grew up listening to a radio show broadcasting at the 1310 frequency in which a calm-voiced host known as the Professor taught lessons about reason and sense through philosophy and science, always accompanied by the dulcet sounds of Claude Debussy’s “Claire De Lune.” A plot point hinges on several characters not realizing that Etienne is the Professor despite the voice obviously being that of Hugh Laurie, and it’s one of the many aspects of the book that just does not lend itself well to adaptation.
Somehow shoe-horned between these two interlocking stories is Reinhold von Rumpel (Lars Eidinger), a Nazi with a vague yet terminal illness searching for a jewel called the Sea of Flames, which he is convinced is in the possession of the LeBlancs, because of its supposed healing qualities. Eidinger plays Reinhold on one deeply unhinged note throughout all four episodes, never adding any interior layers or finding a rhythm that fits the rest of the series.
This is a key problem with much of the acting in Levy’s adaptation. Each actor feels like they’re playing a character rather than something resembling real life. Part of the fault here lies in Knight’s script, which is either laden with clunky exposition or overly flowery language. It also doesn’t help that each of the French characters is played with actors doing British accents (except, of course, Laurie, who just sounds like his normal British self), despite the German characters all being played by actual German actors. Then there’s Mark Ruffalo, who cannot do any accent whatsoever and therefore adopts several different ones throughout his screen time.