Review: London Spy

It’s no James Bond, but it’s certainly not Austin Powers either.

BBC2’s new drama London Spy, broadcast on Monday 9th November, is interesting first for showcasing the job role of the modern spy these days: the story’s spy, “Alex” (Edward Holcroft) is a mathematician, rather than any kind of gun-toting Bond equivalent. Holcroft plays the character as a disturbingly mature genius, haunted by his work and totally inexperienced in the world of romance and most aspects of everyday life. He is wooden in his manner, but in a purposeful and rather effective way.

It’s an interesting tale in its beginning, bringing together modern gay life, spy/thriller/drama elements and simple romance. Ben Whishaw certainly seems to be making the beginnings of an excellent performance in his role as Danny, a young man working in a warehouse (it is entertaining to see Whishaw on the other side of the divide in this story – a position very far from his role as Q in the recent Bond films). The developing romance between Alex and Danny is very interesting to watch, and the scenes in which Danny introduces Alex to the various parts of his life are actually quite sweet. Jim Broadbent is also highly amusing as uncle-type figure Scottie.

That said, there are certain places where the episode falls down somewhat: there are unnecessarily long periods of silence, mostly of Whishaw chain-smoking cigarettes while soft-focused London landmarks sit in the background and the audience is left to fathom his state of mind. Also, most of the second half of the episode is curiously unfocused – there only seems to be a handful of lines in about half an hour of screen time. The event which catalyses the entire programme, too, is done in what could be described in a slightly unneccessarily brutal manner: a bondage murder oddly reminiscient of the death of Gareth Williams, an M16 mathematician and “spy in a suitcase”, in 2010.

But what Danny has found in the battery compartment of Alex’s laptop, and why the police questioned him like he was a suspect rather than a witness, is something that can only be answered in subsequent episodes.

It will certainly be interesting to see how this particular story unfolds.