We all love a good spy thriller, and there’s a couple of things to scratch the espionage itch at the moment – until Bond arrives later this year to wipe the floor with them.
Hitting cinemas on Friday is the Spooks movie, starring Game of Thrones heartthrob Kit Harington – aka Jon ‘You know nothing’ Snow. This strikes me as a weak and rather late attempt to cash in on one of the BBC’s most popular shows, which was reluctantly cancelled in 2011 due to budget concerns.
Why not save your money and watch a new BBC spy series instead? The Game, a six-part drama that follows MI:5 during the Cold War, started last Thursday. It already has me hooked, and I guarantee you it’s better than the Spooks revival.
The Game looks fantastic. It was filmed in London, Birmingham and Wales, and provides a mixture of beautiful countryside and faithful 70s architecture. Urban buildings are drab and grey, and the interiors are full of brown and orange patterned wallpaper – a colour palette that complements the gloomy, film noir feel of the cinematography.
The leading man’s not bad either. Tom Hughes – I’m reliably informed by my wife – is very pretty to look at. To be fair, he could probably kill a man with his bare cheekbones. The bastard.
As you’d expect for a prime-time BBC drama, the cast is excellent. Brian Cox is a West End legend, and he brings gravitas to the role of Daddy, MI:5’s head honcho.
Victoria Hamilton is another whose stage experience lends well to the quiet atmosphere and character-led scenes. She plays Sarah Montag with poise and elegance, but I think there’s more to her than meets the eye.
Tom Hughes is sultry and cold as Joe Lambe, an agent who returns from an operation in Poland with scores to settle. He’s ably abetted by the supporting cast, including Jonathan Aris, who plays Montag’s husband and technical wizard Alan, and Shaun Dooley, MI:5’s police representative Jim Fenchurch.
It wouldn’t be espionage without a bit of intrigue, and The Game has it in droves. Zig-zagging, bluffing, secret agendas – you can’t trust anyone.
Joe Lambe’s attempted defection to the Soviets was covered up by Daddy to instil an unbreakable loyalty between the pair. But Joe is out for revenge after the Russians murdered his Polish lover, and this seems to be his priority, leading to unnecessary risks and collateral damage.
Montag is trying to get her husband to quit MI:5 and work for a private company where he’d be safe from harm. Does she know something the others don’t?
Head of Counter-Espionage Bobby Waterhouse (Paul Ritter) is also up to no good. He’s planning a coup to oust Daddy and take over the reins himself. Is he genuinely concerned about the operation? Or will leading the team benefit him in other ways?
To heighten suspicions even further, it’s revealed at the end of the episode that someone in the organisation’s inner circle is a mole. It’ll be fascinating to see how it all unravels.
1. Paul Ritter
It’s a testament to Ritter’s ability that his performance as Bobby Waterhouse stands out amongst a talented group of actors. He plays the middle-aged mummy’s boy to camp perfection, and gives his contempt for Daddy a sinister, almost oedipal feel.
Ritter is fast gaining a reputation as one of Britain’s rising stars. He first came to prominence in Friday Night Dinner, a sitcom in which he showed a knack for comic timing, and he’s currently starring in Channel 4’s new crime drama No Offence. This ability to switch seamlessly between levity and sincerity has seen his stock go up dramatically. And after watching him in The Game, it’s easy to see why.
You can watch The Game on Thursdays, 9pm, BBC Two.
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