Espionage movies or spy-themed television series usually contain the following elements: sleek cars, sophisticated gadgets, explosions, guns, sharp suits, more action than emotion and dialogue, and sexy women. London Spy contains none of these components, but is a spy thriller/love story you should be watching.
The BBC production won Ben Whishaw a nomination in the Best Actor category at the BAFTAs this year, and the show was also nominated in the best miniseries category. Talks about probable and very well-deserved Emmy nominations are picking up steam too.
London Spy is a far cry from the average Bond production. And Whishaw as Danny Holt is remarkably different from his character Q in Daniel Craig’s Bond movies. The show contains its fair share of spies, but it looks at their complicated and impenetrable world from the eyes of an outsider – one whose life has been turned upside down.
Danny (Whishaw) meets Alex (Edward Holcroft) in the early grey hours after a night out. The broken stock room worker falls in with the enigmatic investment banker, math wiz and child prodigy. They are both lonely and aching to be understood. The two find new meaning and unexpected happiness in this unanticipated relationship. Alex is kind and mysterious, Danny has the boyish charm that makes him easy and outgoing. They are happy for a while before Alex disappears. Danny is still agonising, wondering what he did wrong, when he accidently discovers the keys to Alex’s apartment. Here he finds an attic - an elaborate sex room equipped with a laptop and a lone trunk with a body in it.
An unsure but thoroughly committed Danny is at the centre of the series. He is broken before he meets Alex (actually Alistair, a gifted MI6 agent). Danny is left alone to navigate the complicated maze that is excessively being spun around him.
The show isn’t so much about mystery, espionage or the cracking of codes – though there is a plotline dedicated to the secrets discovered by Alex. London Spy does not include parkour routines by dapper men in perfectly cut suits. It features unexpectedly human and unique individuals and the inner workings of their hearts. It is about the complexities and frailties of the human mind. While he is the central character, Danny is no hero. He is not unbreakable. He enters the screen damaged, lonely and craving for love.
Danny portrays unimpeachable commitment to Alex even when faced with the full force of MI6. While he mourns, Danny is flung in the midst of cold rejection, alternate realities and unsympathetic characters, who he’d hoped would share his love for Alex. His quiet and calm demeanour does not hide the nerve-wracking anguish, confusion and bitter loss. Whishaw’s performance as Danny is exquisite, subtle and heart-wrenching.
The miniseries possesses the subtle nuances of romance that most spy thrillers ignore for the thrills and flash of a high-speed chase. Beyond the relationship between Danny and Alex, the show features an endearing bond between Danny and Scottie. An Ex-MI6 agentwho was forced to quit when he was discovered as gay, Scottie helps Danny traverse the murky waters he has been thrown into. Played flawlessly by the incredible Jim Broadbent, Scottie is one of the most powerful characters in the five-episode run of the mini-series. His unrequited love for Danny adds a whole new layer to his loneliness, as he watches and struggles to keep Danny afloat in the storms raging around them. He helps Danny uncover the secrets that Alex was withholding, from him and from the MI6. He is Danny’s anchor, support system and best friend.
The mood of the series is sombre and dark, bordering on gothic in places. The direction and cinematography is riveting. From clean white beaches to dark beguiling mazes to warm fireplaces – every shot is as well crafted and as carefully considered as the screenplay and dialogue.
The mini-series premiered on BBC Two last year and talks about a second season have been inconclusive so far. These beautiful five episodes are all that you get of the one-of-a-kind love story yet.