London Spy

London Spy is the sort of series for which the phrase “flatters to deceive” was forged, to the extent of making you want to throttle writer Tom Rob Smith.

If you saw up to the end of Episode 1 you would rightly think you were in for a treat from the remaining four instalments.  After all, Ben Wishaw on fine form in a role that was surely written for him, Jim Broadbent dependable as ever, an intriguing plot and a fine London landscape gave you every confidence that this would be a series to lust after.

Sadly it shared much with the recent second series of Top Of The Lake, in that both ended up pompously pretentious, full of their own self-importance, possessed of an absurd plot and ultimately waste the excellent resources employed. Most sadly wasted is Charlotte Rampling, of which more anon.

It’s all a shame but indicative of the necessity of building on your strengths, and the strengths here are the characters and the relationship between Wishaw’s gay and romantic Londoner Danny and Edward Holcroft‘s enigmatic genius Alex/Alastair (the reason for the name confusion you will need to see the series to appreciate), who vanishes towards the end of part 1.  Up to that point I agree with Lucy Mangan in The Guardian when she described it as:

“an unutterably delicious, satisfying dish”

And “Jim Broadbent, in fully teddy-bear-carrying-a-switchblade mode” and Whishaw as “the most powerful actor ever made out of thistledown and magic.” 

So what went wrong?  Yes, you could foresee Danny being blamed for the apparent deat of Alex, but it could and maybe should have juggled fewer ingredients.  The more added to this frothy concoction, the lower its credibility factor.

Chief among this unhappy detours is Danny’s bizarre visit to Alex’s home in Scotland, about which the less said the better.  Suffice it to say this culminates in an encounter with Rampling, who spouts any amount of tripe in an austere and sparsely furnished castle.  If that’s the effect castle dwelling as on you then I’ll stick to a cottage, but trust me when I say the occupants of the lodge are no less weird and even more ‘stagey.’

It is not the fault of the actors, but Jakob Verbruggen‘s direction makes several episodes feel like the worst of cloak-and-dagger pantomime staging, such that you almost expect the villain to jump onstage with a cry of, “Aha!” to a chorus of boos and hisses from the audience.

Sorry, but credibility is lost in this series quite rapidly.  Apart from the three leads (excluding Ms Rampling’s cameo), the characters are cardboard cutouts, the plot descends rapidly into farce and gives no sort of sensible ending.

By episode 3, the Telegraph concluded:

Jasper Rees was unconvinced: “Whishaw’s intense fixity of purpose could do nothing to defibrillate his DOA dialogue…” [12] The same newspaper’s Harry Mount gave a critical review of episode 3 which he regarded as “wearily unconvincing” with “long spells of ennui.”

That just about sums it up.  I had lost all interest and only continued to the end in order to complete a review for you.  I hope you are grateful at my self-sacrifice.

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