London Spy is a new drama where, since all we saw in the trailer was Spectre‘s Ben Whishaw walking around London, I assumed he was the titular spy.
However, Danny (Whishaw) had a far less glamourous occupation – he works in a warehouse where the GPS system always knows your precise location. Makes you realise how the staff at Amazon feel.
While out and about and not feeling too clever, he meets a guy running called Joe (Edward Holcroft), who gives him his drink after they have a bit of a flirt. Joe, conversely, is about, but not yet out. Perhaps Danny was the one to bring him out of his shell? Well, there was more to Joe than met the eye, not least since he’s far more neat and tidy than any man – he even has his paired socks placed into individual sections of the wardrobe! But then he also has a laptop showing weird calculations as its screensaver.
He even turns up on Danny’s doorstep without being told where he lives. Eventually, he came clean, so to speak, and revealed his real name to be Alex. But then we could tell there was a dark side to the man early on, since he had a mysterious trunk in his car which contained maps for zillions of locations, and he chose one for their day out walking. And when Danny suggested a weekend away, Alex suddenly turned the radio volume up when saying he has to buy a battery for his laptop, and that he can’t go without replacing it. Pardon?
Next thing we knew, it was 11 days later and Alex had been missing all this time. And then at work, Danny was directed to a mysterious package in his name, causing his scanning machine to behave like the one in Aliens, beeping as he went.
However, nothing so far was as dark as it would get, since the box contained keys for Alex’s flat. Inside, Danny was led to a mysterious attic bedroom with a music box, then he found a gimp mask and various S&M accoutrements, and only after all this did he realise that the dripping blood coming through the ceiling belonged to a body that was trapped inside a trunk (presumably the same one we saw earlier). But… since it was obvious that we saw the blood before Danny went into the attic – and so did he, hence why he went up there – why did he spend so much time looking around the bedroom rather than investigating the source of the blood? That made no sense. As for who the body is, the BBC had to write to the family of spy Gareth Williams, whose body was found in not too dissimilar circumstances, to let them know they were going to make this drama but that it wasn’t specifically relating to him.
That said, London Spy‘s first episode delivered plenty of tension in the drama when there needed to be, and while towards the end you could say it was getting a bit ‘Fifty Shades of Grey‘, by contrast, this was well-written and well-acted! There was also an early bit of humour when Alex arrived at Danny’s flat, prompting the following response, for which I was certainly expecting the second part: “It’s normally *tidier* than this….” (then turns honest) “It’s *never* tidier than this.”
There was good support from Jim Broadbent as Scottie, a gay man who first met Danny when he was 19 and he walked into his bar. Scottie bought him a drink and he stayed for the evening, eschewing all advances from others. He is the man that Danny goes to when he needs help. Hence, Scottie’s effectively like a surrogate father.
And towards the end, the lies Alex had told Danny just seemed to multiply. Not only did the police accuse Danny of being fully conversant in kinky games of which he hadn’t partaken, the man’s name was actually Alistair, and he was an MI6 spy… so it’s like Q really has been shagging James Bond!
London Spy‘s first episode was very stylish, gushing with intrigue and, at first, the romance side of it seemed to go on quite a long time, but you realised it was clearly necessary so we could see how Danny had fallen deeply in love very quickly with this enigmatic and charming stranger. We could also see that Danny and Scottie have had a relationship in the past, but the extent of it is undefined. And in a bid to get to the bottom of it all, Danny took something from the crime scene but we couldn’t quite work out what it was – a vial of some sort. He had to swallow it to get it past the cops, anyway.
Future episodes will also feature a cast that includes Charlotte Rampling, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Adrian Lester, Harriet Walter, Lizzy McInnerny, Lorraine Ashbourne, Kate Dickie and Mark Gatiss.
London Spy is due out on DVD on June 13th 2016, it continues on Monday on BBC2 at 9pm and you can watch the first episode on BBC iPlayer until December 9th, and click on the top-right picture for the full-size image. As of yet, the series hasn’t been announced for release on Blu-ray and DVD.
Episode 1 Score: 8/10
Director: Jakob Verbruggen
Producer: Guy Heeley
Screenplay: Tom Rob Smith
Music: Keefus Ciancia and David Holmes
Danny: Ben Whishaw
Alex: Edward Holcroft
Pavel: Josef Altin
Sara: Zrinka Cvitesic
Scottie: Jim Broadbent
Geisha: Tatsuji Mikajri
Detective Taylor: Samantha Spiro
Danny’s Lawyer: Richard Cunningham
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.