The Game is a new thiller TV series which I was initially in two minds about, after reading about it and seeing the trailer and a clip, as it looked very similar to the 2011 movie based on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, based on the original TV series – which I hadn’t seen, and yet the film nearly bored me into a coma.
But I always give something a chance based on its own merits, and as time went on, the 1/10 I gave to Tinker Tailor was completely turned on its head for The Game!
Set in 1972, this is a Cold War spy thriller full of espionage, MI5, a Russian KGB officer called Arkady (Marcel Iures) who’s believed to be defecting to the other side, there’s traitors betraying their country and double-crossing waiting to be unearthed. The only thing you won’t see a lot of is that no-one smokes as much as they used to in those days, because the TV execs don’t want to encourage smoking. Fair enough, really, since it just puts everything in a haze of fog.
Tom Hughes leads the cast as Joe Lambe, playing it perfectly, showing brood and menace, with his character still rueinng the day when a colleague to which he got too close – Yulia (Zana Marjanovic) – was murdered on a rogue operation in Poland, by a bad man who always peels and apple with a knife. Yes, the love of his life may be brown bread, but at least the man who did the deed will get whiter, healthier teeth, and avoid getting Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
At the heart of it all is Operation Glass. Brian Cox, on hand as the ‘daddy’ of the team, known affectionately as Daddy, states “Find this apple man and he will find the truth about Operation Glass“. What’s Operation Glass? Well, to be quite frank, in the whole hour of this programme, I didn’t follow everything that was going on 100%, but I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.
A dark drama also needs moments of levity. As well as Paul Ritter (No Offence, Friday Night Dinner, and seemingly appearing in more things lately than Kevin Bacon has in his career) camping it up brilliantly as Bobby Waterhouse, there were also little moments like when Joe and Jim Fenchurch (Shaun Dooley) go to interview an informant, David Hexton. Approaching the door to the man’s flat, and after Jim having declared he’s not impressed by the way the whole office is run…
- Joe: “Right, I need you to get us in there. I don’t have any jurisdiction. After that, just stand there. Be stoic. What you’ve been doing. Be unimpressed. And my name’s Henderson”
Jim (looking confused): “I thought it was Lambe?”
Joe: “It is. It just isn’t here.”
Jim (even more confused): “Who am I?”
Joe (concluding coolly): “You’re you.”
With tension by the bucketload, small comic moments of dry humour like that break the tension to leave me giggling big-time, and it rounds off the whole package in superb style, as does the moment when they both came face to face with ‘evil apple-peeling man’ in a deserted funfair, leading to the baddie escaping with all the panache of a similar individual from Scooby Doo. So many TVs dramas go full-on for the drama and forget to include the unintentional humour, but writer/creator Toby Whitehouse has got it spot-on, here.
I watched The Game not expecting a great deal from it, following Tinker Tailor…, so it’s nice when my expectations are exceeded with a show (same goes for Ordinary Lies, also starring Shaun Dooley), and it swept me along with its wonderful writing and cast, which also includes Jonathan Aris (Sherlock), plus the stunning twosome of Victoria Hamilton and Chloe Pirrie, the latter of whom only had a small role in this first episode as secretary Wendy Straw, but the ‘Next Time…’ clip at the end showed her in a very amusing scene with Paul Ritter. I won’t spoil it here, but you can see it on the BBC iPlayer, or wait for it to play out in episode two.
In fact, similar to Ordinary Lies, while The Game, at first seemed to be Paul Ritter’s show, then Tom Hughes’, I was left hoping that everyone gets turn to dominate, as this is a fantastic cast.
The Game Episode 1 is available on the BBC iPlayer until May 30th, and the series continues on Thursday at 9pm on BBC2. I most likely won’t review this series episode-by-episode as I’ve covered the basics here and I will just sit back and enjoy the rest of it.
Also, click on the main image, top-right, for the full-size version.
Let’s hope it’s not long before the series is available to pre-order on Blu-ray and DVD.
Episode 1 Score: 9/10
Director: Niall MacCormick
Producer: Radford Neville
Writer/Creator: Toby Whithouse
Music: Daniel Pemberton
Joe Lambe: Tom Hughes
DC Jim Fenchurch: Shaun Dooley
Bobby Waterhouse: Paul Ritter
Alan Montag: Jonathan Aris
Sarah Montag: Victoria Hamilton
Wendy Straw: Chloe Pirrie
Arkady: Marcel Iures
Yulia: Zana Marjanovic
Hester Waterhouse: Judy Parfitt
Odin: Jevgenij Sitochin
Daddy: Brian Cox
David Hexton: Scott Handy
Kitty: Gabrielle Scharnitzky
Home Secretary: Tim Bentinck
Comic: Nick Holder
KGB Hood: Velibor Topic
Waiter: James Northcote
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.