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London Spy, Series Finale, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

London Spy, Series Finale, BBC Two

London Spy, Series Finale, BBC Two

Hats off to Ben Whishaw. Dunce's caps for the rest of 'em

Ben Whishaw as Danny: a performance that kept on growing

Well, they're saying this was the final episode, but these days you never know how long TV's ratings-hungry marketeers might eke a successful show out for. London Spy 2 would be a major ask, considering how this series somehow spun a bare minimum of content (even though it was shrouded in oodles of atmosphere) out to five episodes. Still, the ending didn't really end, so watch this space. 

London Spy got off to a flying start, but by the middle of episode three it was a racing certainty that great expectations were unlikely to be satisfied by a meaty and satisfying denouement. Rather than circling closer to the murky core of the story, it kept throwing its ripples out wider and wider, through scary gay orgies to freakish bogus antecedents, weird taxi rides reminscent of The Prisoner, and yarns about secret theorems that would look teeteringly daft in an Austin Powers movie. The more serious it tried to look, the more vaporous it became. (Edward Holcroft as Alex, pictured below.)

Despite, or perhaps because of all this, Ben Whishaw's central performance as Danny miraculously continued to grow while all around it receded into the background. It's beginning to look as if you can take Whishaw anywhere and he'll find something to pull out of his hat. Here, he was frequently heartbreaking as the damaged, solitary and ganged-up-against loner, with anything he cared for systematically stripped from him as he was sucked into the vortex of one of history's greatest conspiracies. 

Yet, despite his demeanour of puppy-eyed, teenager-like fragility, he found the strenth and intelligence to keep fighting back and negotiate a way through, even when the faceless baddies were infecting him with HIV and trying to reduce him to the status of a dead pixel on a computer screen. It's fair to say that Whishaw was able to convince you that London Spy was a far more substantial piece of work than it turned out to be. Though I'll grant you he got a solid leg up from Jim Broadbent's Scottie.

Otherwise, it was difficult to know whether to burst out laughing or make a pot of tea. Charlotte Rampling (pictured left) got another mirthless go-round as Alex's mother – or adoptive co-mother, since we must define our terms more meticulously in these role-eliding times – but having her incarcerated in a crumbling Gothic pile surrounded by a squad of stone-faced septuagenarian goons was farcical. Only the Munsters' customised hearse was missing. As for the revelation about the hideous fate of Alex, or (if you will) Alistair, it was hard to feel anything but scepticism about a man locked in a commode festooned with electronic gadgetry. Robotic white-coated agents of a ruthless establishment glowered dutifully while Rampling shouted at him. "You must never make contact with anyone from this life again!" she hectored, while Alex's own revolutionary algorithms analysed the veracity of his responses. There was no mistaking the metallic thump of falling lumps of irony.

Perhaps the silliest conceit of all was the notion of a vast and crushing secret state that was omnisicent, omnipresent and omnipowerful, but never visible and only alluded to in whispers. If it wanted to, it knew everything you did before you did it, and indeed had already prevented it before you'd thought of it. Not so much George Orwell, more like The Matrix meets the Borg in a spin-off from Total Recall, though none of this seemed very likely knowing what we do of Whitehall budget cuts. Screenwriter Tom Rob Smith does a good line in novels based in Soviet Russia, but maybe too much Cold War paranoia does something to a man. In short, Whishaw, si! Everyone else, be off with you. 

Whishaw was able to convince you that 'London Spy' was a far more sub- stantial piece of work than it turned out to be


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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Yes, I agree. Started so broodingly, with good camerawork, and performances remained strong throughout, even the cameos (though that reminds me - where did the Clarke Peters character take us? Nowhere). But not even the compelling uncorruptibiity of Whishaw's hero could stop the groans and the 'what's at this end, from Adrian Lester's delivery of the improbable through to the faintly ludicrous stuff the ever-watchable Charlotte Rampling had to go through. Likewise from four stars to one in five rather loosely plotted episodes.

I thought it was very entertaining and couldn't wait for the next episodes, I thought Ben Whishaw was excellent and he mated well with Scottie. Good story

Frankly just about the only good thing which came out of "London Spy" was this well-deserved and brilliantly written review. 'London Spy' was appalling and incoherent beyond words. And it seems a second series of this drivel looms. Anyhow the hatchet job above deserves to be read everywhere. Just wish Mr Sweety had been less tender towards 'Downton Abbey.'

That's the nicest thing I've ever been called, Just a reader. You'll miss Downton when it's gone, mark my words.

Sorry, apologies. I meant to write 'Sweeting'. No editing button so this is the only way I can make amends.

An excellent review of this self regarding piece of aimless, ponderous tosh. Thankfully followed on Channel 4 by the beautifully crafted, multi-facetted Fargo.

what was going n ? pretentious - good looking nonsense

"Charlotte Rampling (pictured left) got another mirthless go-round as Danny's mother..." You meant Alex's mother, surely? Apart from that, great review.

You're right of course - now corrected.

What a shame, the last part of the series was a let down from the first gripping episodes. It made no sense! Danny had discovered the chest in Alex's attic, and the body inside it Danny had a cloth across his face beause presumably there was a stench of a dead body. Some time elapsed whist he visited Alex's family and Scotty and a funeral etc then he's back in Alex's flat after some time, where you then see Alex is miraculously still alive cramped up in that small chest. How did he survive without food or water? Why was there a stench earlier on.? So far fetched it became silly!

I disagree on that very final point - Perhaps the silliest conceit of all was the notion of a vast and crushing secret state that was omnisicent, omnipresent and omnipowerful, but never visible and only alluded to in whispers etc..." This isn't reminiscent of Orwell's crap sci-fi, but of Kafka! The inclusion of the image of the panopticon signalled most clearly to this - and to Josef K.! I thought it was quite brilliant, even if slipping inevitably into melodrama.

I think this was part of the problem. There were so many allusions and borrowings in 'London Spy' that it ended up  without any fixed identity of its own.

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