It’s become increasingly difficult to make a spy story feel fresh and new. Spies are—as they tend to do every couple of years—having another cultural upswing. From the wittier ilk of Spy to the more classically portrayed Spectre and TV brethren like Homeland on Showtime and The Americans on FX, we can’t get enough of shady secrets, double-crossing, and the human ingenuity needed to live a double life. Thanks to its smooth-yet-gritty vibes and a visual and aural tone that draws you in and envelopes your senses, London Spy, BBC America’s new miniseries, will draw you into its web of lies, too.
London Spy is slow to start, truth be told. In the utter glut of very-good-TV out there, the standards have become so high that nitpicking almost feels inevitable. The first hour can be a bit of a drag, ripe with under-communicated timelines and dragged-out moments of “relationship establishing” between Ben Whishaw’s Danny and his paramour, the mysterious investment banker Alex (Edward Holcroft). That said, Holcroft does wonders playing Alex just behind the eyes, in a way that keeps you guessing and unnerved, but ultimately hopeful, throughout. His pregnant pauses are excruciatingly, deliciously maddening.
But Danny’s character is an interesting one: a manic pixie club boy with a heart of gold and a desire to fall in love. His chance encounter with Alex is the stuff of meet-cute perfection, and does ultimately give way to an incredibly intimate, delicate relationship between the two. It goes without saying that Whishaw handles these moments—frankly, every moment—with his excellent brand of wide-eyed nuance. You truly couldn’t ask for a better actor (or actors) in the role: Their inner lives leap across the screen, even when you’re not 100% sure what to believe or trust. This is doubly true when it comes to Danny’s interactions with confidante and friend, Scottie (Jim Broadbent), a former spy whose entire career was ended thanks to homophobia.
London Spy is not perfect, but it is very good — a thrilling and enticing world in which to get caught up. Danny is incredibly perceptive, but his intuition makes for interesting choices with even more interesting consequences. (See: his scenes with the force of nature that is Charlotte Rampling.) And it truly is exhilarating to see the cost of being gay in a profession where secrets are a top commodity/point of power. To that end, London Spy gives us something new, different, exciting, well-done and truly fascinating. Kudos to writer Tom Rob Smith and director Jakob Verbruggen for giving us another peg on the ever-spinning spy wheel.
With only 5 episodes, there’s no way you can go wrong tuning into the series when it premieres stateside this Thursday, January 21 on BBC America. We give it 4 out of 5 burritos:
Are you going to tune into London Spy? A Brit who’s already seen it all and has something non-spoilery to say? Let us know in the comments below!
Image Credit: BBC America
Alicia Lutes is the Managing Editor of The Nerdist. Find her on Twitter (@alicialutes).