sun 16/06/2024

The Ipcress File, ITV review – adaptation of Len Deighton thriller fires on all cylinders | reviews, news & interviews

The Ipcress File, ITV review – adaptation of Len Deighton thriller fires on all cylinders

The Ipcress File, ITV review – adaptation of Len Deighton thriller fires on all cylinders

Joe Cole, Lucy Boynton and Tom Hollander light up this Cold War classic

My name is not Michael Caine. Joe Cole as Harry Palmer

Sidney J Furie’s 1965 film The Ipcress File is a much-loved benchmark of its period. Stylish, sinister, witty and depicting a determinedly un-swinging London, it was conceived as the flipside to the absurdly glamorous James Bond movies and pulled it off with panache.

It also had Michael Caine playing the lead role of Harry Palmer, and a superb John Barry soundtrack famously featuring that mysterious instrument, the cimbalom.

Turning the same story into a TV series nearly 60 years later was not a job for the faint-hearted, but, remarkably, screenwriter John Hodge and director James Watkins have created a show that expands and develops the story (and incorporates more of Len Deighton’s source novel) while capturing something of the spirit of the movie. Joe Cole (Peaky Blinders, Gangs of London etc) was inspired casting for the Harry Palmer role, bringing a bolshy, delinquent attitude to his portrayal of a docker’s son from the East End rubbing up against the public schoolboys and officer-class snobs of the Whitehall establishment. But he also happens to be academically brilliant and equipped with razor-sharp instincts which leave him well equipped for the back-stabbing skulduggery of secret intelligence work.

This opening episode, set in 1963, treated us to a chunk of Palmer’s back story, perhaps borrowing a few ideas from another of Deighton’s spy novels, Funeral in Berlin. A Korean War veteran who’d been serving with the British Army in West Berlin, Palmer has shown great flair in developing his own contraband network, selling whisky and lobsters to a middle man who smuggles them into East Berlin and sells them to the Russians. However, all good things come to an end, and Palmer’s black market exploits have landed him in a bleak military prison in Colchester (pictured below, Tom Hollander, Joe Cole and Lucy Boynton).

The apparent abduction of a leading nuclear scientist from the Aldermaston research establishment proves to be a lucky break for Palmer, because the kidnapping happened to be organised by his Berlin contact, a man known to British spooks as Housemartin. Palmer is whisked out of jail and recruited by William Dalby (Tom Hollander), boss of an enigmatic undercover outfit which seems to make its own rules. He sends Palmer back to Berlin to find Housemartin, with a view to tracking down the abducted Professor Dawson.

Naturally nothing goes according to plan, but it promises to be an exciting ride. The show gets almost everything right, from the Sixties-style captions and credits to the clothes, cars and interior décor. A beige-ish tint to the photography evokes the early Sixties with eerie potency. There’s no John Barry soundtrack, but Tom Hodge’s music is discreetly chilly and more than a little ominous. The series was shot in Liverpool (though probably not the later episode which features a neutron bomb test on a Pacific island), which serves remarkably well as a stand-in for a crumbling Cold War Berlin.

It’s more than likely that the breakout star from the show is going to be Lucy Boynton, playing Palmer’s spy colleague Jean Courtney. A glacially beautiful blonde, the exquisitely-styled Courtney could show Sixties supermodels Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton a clean pair of heels, while possessing such espionage-friendly qualities as penetrating intuition and icy sang-froid. She also carries a timely message about female empowerment, since her wealthy family are planning a lavish wedding which will see her hitched to a chinless toff in New York, where she will be expected to fulfil the role of loyal spouse and home-maker. That’s not how Courtney sees her life panning out, though.

Chuck in a delightfully caustic performance from Hollander and a variety of flavourful supporting roles, and you’ve got a little beauty to look forward to on Sunday nights (or alternatively, watch it all right now on ITV Hub). I wonder if Michael Caine will be tuning in.

  • All episodes of The Ipcress File are available on ITV Hub
It’s more than likely that the breakout star from the show is going to be Lucy Boynton


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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I think Joe Cole delivered a credible character with subtle nuanced differences. As for the coincidence of what is happening in the real world today I would say "timing is everything" so bring back the Cold War with a vengeance. After all, the good guys won. It will take a viewing of all the episodes of the Ipcress File remake to determine if it is of the same enduring quality as the epic Harry Saltzman version starring Michael Caine. In a way though it is a shame that the film industry is producing yet another remake of a classic thriller. Are modern film producers fearful of failure or simply stagnant? I guess the former as they have a guaranteed audience even though they are taking the risk that many of those who will watch the remake might dismiss it as disappointing compared to the original. If success is to breed success the film industry must not polish old gems but mine for new ones. In the espionage genre, an example of such a new gem is Beyond Enkription, the first fact based spy thriller in The Burlington Files series. I only mention that because, coincidentally, some critics have likened its protagonist to a "posh Harry Palmer" and the first novel in the series is indisputably Deightonesque. It's worth checking out this enigmatic and elusive thriller. Not being a remake it may have eluded you!

The episode came across as plastic and synthetic, it was set in the sixties but lacked the feel, the attitude, and the atmosphere. The main character came across as dull, and he did not fit the part. I did not see the point of this remake in this woke and cancel culture we live in, as the whole affair appeared sanitised and lacked any sixties cool.

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