The Secret Agent is mild-mannered shopkeeper Verloc (Toby Jones), who’s been doing some work for the Russian Embassy along the way, but now there’s a new broom at the office in London, First Secretary Mr Vladimir (David Dawson), and he’s going to have to earn his keep by doing more than just half-assed investigatory work – He’s going to have to get his hands dirty.
Instead of preventing terrorist threats, they’re going to blackmail him to make a bomb and plant it at the Greenwich Observatory. If he doesn’t do it? They’ll expose everything he’s done for them so far.
Beginning on November 5th, 1886, in London, there’s a good cast here, also including Vicky McClure, Christopher Fairbank, Stephen Graham, Tom Goodman-Hill and George Costigan, plus an almost-unrecognisable Ian Hart, but after a plodding first thirty minutes, I kept waiting for the moment Verloc was going to drop the bomb, expecting that to come early and then the rest of the episode, and the three-parter overall, to deal with the fallout. Unfortunately, they’re saving that for later.
With the cops onto them before too long, and this being yet another of those BBC dramas where the dialogue isn’t particularly clear, I was starting to lose the will to live waiting for something to happen.
Despite being sourced from the Joseph Conrad novel, Perhaps someone should’ve blackmailed Tony Marchant to write a script with more pep.
PS. I’ve since seen episodes two and three and (without spoilers) I have to say that it does, mostly, get better, but I still feel that what’s onscreen (reportedly losing a fair chunk from the novel, which I haven’t read) would’ve been better condensed into two hour-long episodes, or a single movie.
The Secret Agent is available to pre-order on DVD, ahead of its release on August 1st, and the episode is available to watch on BBC iPlayer until August 16th. Also, click on the packshot for the full-size version.
Episode 1 Score: 4/10
Director: Charles McDougall
Producer: Priscilla Parish
Writer: Tony Marchant (based on the novel by Joseph Conrad)
Music: Stuart Earl
Verloc: Toby Jones
Winnie Verloc: Vicky McClure
Stevie: Charlie Hamblett
Jessie: Marie Critchley
Michaelis: Tom Vaughan-Lawlor
Ossipon: Raphael Acloque
Yundt: Christopher Fairbank
Councillor Wurmt: Philip Rosch
Vladimir: David Dawson
Chief Inspector Heat: Stephen Graham
AC Stone: Tom Goodman-Hill
Sir Ethelred: George Costigan
The Professor: Ian Hart
Hedges: Ash Hunter
Lady Blackwood: Penny Downie
Annie Stone: Selina Boyack
Urchin Boy: Badger Skelton
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.