If you’ve not been watching London Spy, BBC2’s fantastic espionage drama which continues tonight, then it’s time to start.
Like thrillers and detective stories full of mystery and tension? That’s London Spy. Tender relationship dramas built around a believable central pairing? Again, that’s London Spy. Prefer something endlessly entertaining stuffed with a cast of old-school British thesps and Q from James Bond? You get the idea.
If you’re unaware of the plot so far, let’s recap: the story began two weeks ago when Danny (Ben Whishaw) met a young man called Alex (Edward Holcroft), with whom he began a fumbling, sweet affair. Fast forward a few months and the secretive Alex has gone, leading Danny to investigate his boyfriend’s abandoned flat and find a staged scene designed to put him under suspicion.
Yes, this is a textbook “one unlikely man against the shadowy forces of government” conspiracy thriller, from the pen of someone who’s sold quite a few such stories as novels (Child 44’s Tom Rob Smith). As time goes on, Danny finds his world torn apart as he’s menaced by mysterious forces, sent enigmatic clues and faced with lie after lie while he battles to find the truth about Alex – and what exactly he was hiding. God, it’s a satisfying watch.
That said, it’s hard to know exactly where to start with recommending this series – without giving too much of the game away for the uninitiated.
I could begin by saying that it has gathered together a stunning cast for a BBC2 drama, centred around Whishaw’s sweet, utterly believable Danny and his weary establishment friend Scottie (Jim Broadbent), ably reinforced by fantastic supporting players (including Adrian Lester, James Fox, Charlotte Rampling, Mark Gatiss and Harriet Walter).
I could sing the praises of the cinematography, epitomised by a striking moment at the end of episode two where Danny slowly and deliberately tears a business card and lets it whip around him in the wind. It’s a bit arty, sure, but adds another unique layer to its appeal and makes the whole thing seem beautifully dreamlike.
I could even talk about the touching depiction of Danny and Alex’s romantic relationship, which dominates the first episode and is a powerful through-line throughout the series.
But really, it comes down to the plot – full of twists, feints and turns to make your pulse race more than anything on TV. You’d be surprised at how much tension this series can wring from watching Danny walk through a room, wait for test results silently or walk through a forest. That less-is-more approach abounds throughout the series.
So why not try to catch up? London Spy is a brilliantly modern take on a tired genre, with great performances, cinematography and a nail-biting story.
In the best possible way, it’ll leave you both shaken and stirred.