London Spy – BBC2 (2015) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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BBC2 launched their new five part drama series this week. Starring Ben Whishaw (From “The Hour” and the current Q in the Bond Franchise) and Jim Broadbent (of too much to mention) this was an intriguing little opener. I don’t know how many times during the hour I thought to myself – “this is wasn’t what I thought it was going to be” when there would be a subtle shift and something else seemed to be happening and then it all ended with what I thought it was going to be after all.

Danny (Whishaw), on his way home from a nightclub, tense and wired, meets jogger Joe (Edward Holcroft) on a bridge probably around the Vauxhall area of London. Danny has just dispensed with his phone and appears troubled and that begins an exchange of what could be coded messages or what could be two men trying to establish whether the other might be a) gay and b) interested. When asked if he is okay Danny tells Joe,

“You don’t know me but if you did you’d know I’m always fine.”

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That’s not the way things look . Is this some kind of planned rendezvous or is it the result of an unsuccessful night’s cruising in a night club? Is this some kind of espionage or a test of sexual parameters? The relationship continues along this strange route – Danny jogs in the hope of bumping into Joe, they meet up again, there’s a restrained dinner date, an awkward scene in Joe’s swishy apartment and it looks like all might be over until Joe turns up at Danny’s more down- at- heel flat. Is this the way relationships go in this day and age or is someone not putting all their cards on the table? That’s a lot of questions but then this is called “London Spy” – it should be provoking questions. Joe reveals he is actually called Alex and a sexual innocent. There’s a scene which invokes Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and a lot of odd, disconcerting camera angles as the guys try to establish their relationship. Alex claims to work in an investment bank;

“The people I work with are inscrutable”

Doesn’t sound like too many bankers I’ve ever met. He has an odd numerical screensaver and one of the two appears to be under surveillance – or is the viewer reading too much into this based on the title? Perhaps it’s going to be a series about two guys getting it on after all.

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Edward Holcroft and Ben Whishaw – London Spy

Jim Broadbent further confuses the issue. Is he a besotted pal of Danny’s looking out for him, or is he and Danny up to something ? Does he seem more familiar towards Alex (formerly Joe) than their first meeting would suggest? Even a drag act is performing an incongruous, enigmatic Japanese song in the venue where this meeting takes place. This is well-written stuff. The man to take the credit for this is novelist Tom Rob Smith, whose prize-winning and popular “Child 44” is on the shelf behind the television set in my house waiting for its turn to be read. I think on the basis of this it might have moved up a few places on the waiting list. Subtexts seem to be running under every line. Smith has pulled a blinder on establishing the closeness between the types of language used in the early days of a relationship and espionage.

It had an ending I had to watch twice to work out what was going on, so far removed was it from my expectations, that I,  like some of the characters, ending up feeling confused and manipulated but totally intrigued where this is going next. It would not surprise me if it switches more to a police procedural as the last few minutes introduced Samantha Spiro (outstanding as Barbara Windsor in “Cor Blimey!” and also excellent as Vivien Friend in the much-underrated cop series “M.I.T- Murder Investigation Team”) or perhaps it is taking its inspiration from some high profile real-life recent British spy cases. But, basically, I have no idea where this one is going but after this opener I’m going to be along for the ride.

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Samantha Spiro co-stars in “London Spy”

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The second episode of “London Spy” is on BBC 2 on Monday 9th November at 9.00. The first episode can be found on BBC I-Player.

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3 thoughts on “London Spy – BBC2 (2015) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

  1. Hi Phil,

    I have to disagree with you on the ending of it. The last 10 mins were rather unclearly interpreted. The darkness of the scenes did not help, however intriguing they were. I lost the plot. I didn’t understand the connection of Jim Broadbent as a character towards Danny, I am not sure I enjoy any on-screen stuff with any lose ends.I love anything pre- or post WW2, but “Child 44” was a great disappointment. Apart from violence I won’t remember much.So immemorable it was.I suspect it is the writer’s style I can’t follow. Ok I agree, to write a spy series is hard, but it should not be over-taxing on a viewer. People switch off. I quite did not get the homosexual bit either. I felt it greatly stole from the whole story.(the explicit bits).
    All in all, I am not giving up as yet. I’d like to see if it improves.

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    • Thank you for your comments, Monika. It is good to hear from you. As I had it scheduled for review I watched it twice, and the second time things did fall into place that I’d missed the first time, particularly in the sequence towards the end, where it was difficult to work out and see what exactly was going on. Of course, people making these programmes should not be requiring people to watch something twice before they can work out what is happening! I’m fascinated as to the direction it might be going, after this first episode I have no real idea, so that will keep me watching . I’m interested in your comments about “Child 44” – I also like to read about this era – but haven’t got around to this yet. I’ve just started a book by Tony Schumacher which is a thriller which reimagines a Britain beaten by the Nazis – the blurb on the cover states: “In A Nazi-Controlled London of 1946, one man risks it all to achieve the impossible -redemption”. It’s called “The Darkest Hour” and I have this and its newly published follow-up in my review pile. These books could be of interest to you – My reviews for them will appear on here in due course.

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      • Hi Phil,
        Looking forward to reading your book list.
        I am currently reading, literally the first page of Gone to Ground by M. Simpson.Although it is a story of a young Jewish young woman, living during the WW2 in Berlin, I deviated from pre-, post- war times. Will let you know how I get on.

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