TV Review - London Spy

This British series aired in the UK last year on BBC2. It was five episodes, which began in November 2015. It got quite a bit of critical acclaim before it began airing here in the USA, starting in January 2016. It was written by Tom Rob Smith whose book Child 44 had been adapted into a film, starring Tom Hardy. Given the title and the fact this series stars Ben Whishaw whom most might know from his role in the recent James Bond films, the assumption might be that this show would be more action-oriented, but perhaps with Whishaw doing the action and not the blonde beefcake that is Daniel Craig.

Whishaw stars as Danny Holt, a warehouse employee who gets ensnared in a murder plot, as well as a government conspiracy, which has global implications. Because Danny is openly gay, the possibility exists that this could have had a gay spy as a protagonist in a major production. It wouldn't have been as major as James Bond or Jason Bourne, but it had potential. Unfortunately, that's not the direction that Smith decided to go.

Smith does set-up a great or at least a very compelling murder mystery. In the first episode, Danny discovers the body of his dead boyfriend and he's then framed for his murder. The rest of the series is Danny trying to learn the truth of what happened to his boyfriend and prove his innocence.

Smith crafts this interesting beginning, and there are very well-done moments that come in the four episodes that follow. Yet, the plotting, the movement from point A to point Z, was pretty dull. It's slow and indulgent, and it doesn't have the urgency that one might want. The steady pacing is established in the first episode, but so much is packed in that first hour that it didn't feel so lugubrious. However, everything proceeding is dripped out at an annoyingly sluggish speed. Honestly, I had to re-watch episodes because they would literally put me to sleep.

Jim Broadbent (Iris and Moulin Rouge) co-stars as Scottie, another gay spy who worked for MI:6 and helps Danny to solve the murder. He tells a very amazing story in the second episode, but, aside from delving into his character, Scottie exists in the narrative to lead Danny around from place-to-place and lay down pieces to the puzzle. In reality, there would be no way for Danny to discover these things, but it makes Danny a passive character in those moments.

Charlotte Rampling (45 Years and The Duchess) also co-stars as Frances Turner, the mother of Danny's murdered boyfriend. She stands as a very enigmatic character whose role doesn't become clear until the final episode. She then lays down the final and the biggest, puzzle piece. I get why she's used in this way, but I wish she had more of a presence or had more interactions with Danny. The series felt like it was spinning its wheels until her arrival at the end.

Even though it would have perhaps taken away from Danny's story, it might have helped to make this more a police drama. Detective Taylor, played by Samantha Spiro, is with the London police and suspects Danny of the murder, but it would have been interesting if we followed her more as she explored other avenues, in conjunction or along side Danny.

One of the most sensual and erotic moments I've seen in prime-time is in the first episode. It's between Danny and his boyfriend, Alex, played by Edward Holcroft. The sequence is in Danny's bedroom after their walk along the beach. It's beautiful to behold and heartbreaking to think about in retrospect.

However, the third episode possesses probably the greatest piece of direction in the whole series. In that third episode, Danny goes to get a HIV test. The sequence of him in the clinic being tested and ending with him getting the results is done in one long, continuous take. From the camera moves inside the very tight room to Whishaw's jaw-dropping performance, if it's eligible, should more than qualify the director or Whishaw for an Emmy nomination. It conveys the dizziness, the confusion, the claustrophobia and the sheer gut-punch feeling of that moment and it works.

That sequence follows another really haunting sequence between Danny and Rich, played by Mark Gatiss. Rich is a lecherous man who is into a lot of drugs and gay sex. He's very wealthy and has a lot of connections, which is why Danny goes to him for information, but it comes at a price, which Danny is scared or conflicted to pay. Gatiss in addition to being an actor known for his role in Sherlock, he's also a writer and Emmy-nominated producer.

The explanation for who murdered Danny's boyfriend and especially how is pretty clever. It's also quite horrifying, as well as heart-wrenching. Unfortunately, the explanation of why is what ultimately sinks the whole affair. The why is rather convoluted and it goes to ridiculous lengths that are seemingly unnecessary. The reason it's unnecessary because it's clear Danny didn't need to be framed. The killer could have gotten away with it if not for the frame job.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14-DL.
Running Time: 1 hr. / 5 eps.
Thursdays at 10PM on BBC America.


Popular Posts