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BBC America’s ‘LONDON SPY’ Series Review

July 10, 2017

londons py


Year: 2016

Creator/Writer: Tom Rob Smith

Director: Jakob Verbruggen

Cast: Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Adrian Lester, Mark Gatiss and Edward Holcroft


One of the reasons why I’m a big fan of British television is because they produce top not drama series with top-notch casts, smart writing, impeccable cinematography, some times eerie with a terrifying suspense of atmosphere (depending on the genre). Due to their British talent coming from theatre school and quickly manage to spread their wings to television and film and radio, it’s one of the reasons why the Brits fool us when playing American roles.

LONDON SPY is a five part mini-series that can easily fool you with its title, but let me tell you something is not just about being a spy. It’s enigmatic and linear storytelling makes it different and unique. It’s quite clear from the very first moment that the theme wanting to be explored here is the emotional truth and the complexities behind performances of identity. This series could have easily gone wrong in so many areas, but one of the reasons why it’s able to be stand alone and deliver another splendid job it’s due to the fact of… the performances of Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling.

Let me set it up for you: in 2010, back in the UK, Gareth Williams, was found locked inside a gym bag in a bathtub at an apartment. When authorities investigated, Williams was connected to MI6. As soon as the press got a hold of the news, loads of speculation about spycraft and sexual practices were spread that supposedly led to his death.

While that death made the tabloids on every newspaper, creator Tom Rob Smith took the elements of reality and made something unique and interesting. He wantd to explore what costs people to be true of themselves and how easily it is for the powerful to demonize and shame people for what goes on in their personal lives, even in this reality where you think that might not go on. Lies, subterfuge, manipulation and outright persecution or invent “truths” is something that the government does to supposedly protect their citizens.

london spy

The story begins with Danny (Whishaw) who spends his nights partying and under the influence of drugs. One morning, when he’s clearing out of his influence, he encounters Alex (Edward Holcroft), a frequent runner, who’s completely different from Danny and his habits. Danny can easily be another boring character, but his instincts and powers of perception are what makes him different and seems to grab the attention of Alex, who’s a very organized and buttoned-down banker. Jim Broadbent plays Scottie, an old friend who helps Danny when he runs into serious trouble. I’m not going to reveal much about Charlotte Rampling’s role, not only because I will not give spoilers, but because he role is complicated. Every one of her scenes with Whishaw’s Danny is impeccable. It’s like watching two actors playing a game of mental chess or a game of tennis.

Something that made me want to continue and devour this mini-series was because it grabbed my attention and there was a mystery that just kills you, makes you eager to continue to watch and find out what’s going on. The lines between reality and identity are tied to Danny’s emotional concerns. Despite the efforts of an array of powerful forces, a desperate Danny is eager and insists that whatever Alex’s hidden agenda was and identity, their relationship was truthful and real on some level. As he continues to want the world to get to know the truth, everything is possible so that Danny’s credibility can crumble down and even his life are often at stake, but that doesn’t stop him. He and Scottie, a well-connected bureaucrat, helps him dig up more about the truth.

Rob Smith needs to be applauded. The series would have become easily predictable or boring, but the way it was written, the theme explored, and the characters makes it unique. The narrative that he gives feels like you are walking through a hedge maze on a country estate like it’s seen in the show. Another top Brit show to add to your list.

The cinematography is impeccable. I’m not surprised that the UK has some really beautiful locations that make you travel without needing to buy a ticket and take a plane. You’re practically traveling with these locations. Jakob Verbruggen’s direction is unique too. Many close-ups and emphasis on all of the actor’s facial reactions. I guess there needs to be said that since there’s good actors, they can give you facial reactions and body language and add richness and elevate their performances on screen without having to say a word.

london spy 3

Whishaw appears constantly in film and television. You might know him now as a young Q thanks to Spectre, but he’s one of the finest actors of his generation. Whishaw himself has the looks of innocence and he plays Danny’s confusion with utter conviction. There’s an innocence about the character that separates and allows to audience to imagine and see some of the darkness and turbulence of his past. Danny might not have money, or power or education, but as his story progresses, his integrity and his instincts exceeds any other person that was involved with Alex and his life.

Broadbent is absolutely subtle throughout. Written many scenes where he allows the audience to know him, it’s a scene that once he finishes you just want to applaud him. One of the most memorable scenes would be when his character recounts the security services’ persecution of employees because of their sexuality and how they would use that leverage to blackmail.

On the other side, Mark Gatiss also appears. It shouldn’t surprise you, but although he’s not Mycroft Holmes in this one, he is quite memorable playing a music producer.

If you’re trying to look for a British show that’s different, can make you think, and everything that you have read up below, London Spy is the show for you.The distinctive story and imagery, moments of discovery, romance and fury, will linger in your memory for days.


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