Spooks: The Greater Good

Posted: May 15, 2015 in Film reviews
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Directed by Bharat Nalluri. Starring Peter Firth and Kit Harington.

spooks

During a handover to the CIA, the MI5 convoy transporting terrorist Adem Qasim is ambushed, and Qasim escapes. It’s a huge embarrassment for MI5, and adds weight to the belief that the CIA plan to cut back on their cooperation with the British Security Services, which will prove catastrophic.

Before he can take the fall for the loss of Qasim Sir Harry Pearce (Firth), the head of MI5 Counter Terrorism, disappears. Concerned about what Harry plans to do a group of senior officials recruit Will Holloway (Harington) a former MI5 agent who was decommissioned by Harry, to track him down.

Harry makes contact with Will and explains that Qasim’s escape was sanctioned by someone at a high level in order to facilitate the CIA takeover of MI5, Harry doesn’t know who the traitor is but the suspects include the very people who’ve sent Will after him, namely Oliver Mace, the chairman of the joint intelligence committee, a politician named Warrender, and Dame Geraldine Maltby, deputy director of MI5.

As Holloway struggles to know who to trust, Harry uses increasingly dangerous methods in uncovering the traitor, meanwhile Qasim’s terrorist cell are preparing an attack at the very heart of London…
Spooks the series ran from 2002 to 2011, and it’s fair to say I was a big fan. Arriving not long after 9/11 it proved a hit thanks to exciting writing, slick production values, great actors and the gleeful propensity to horribly murder its main cast years before The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones made this cool. The show ended after 10 series (some better than others it has to be said) and I thought that was that, until I heard the first whispers of a Spooks film a year or two ago.

Initially I was excited, but then I started to get wary. When Kit Harington (Game of Thrones’ Jon Snow) was signed on and started featuring very prominently in the advertising for the film, I thought this was going to be one of those situations where a series is transferred to the big screen and the franchise is handed over to a new (usually much younger and prettier) generation, and I feared we might get five or ten minutes of Harry briefing/debriefing Will in between Harington running jumping and shooting for the remainder of the run time.

I’m delighted to report that this is not the case. Yes Harington does do a lot of running jumping and shooting, but in terms of screen time Firth gets as much meat, if not more, than the young newcomer to MI5. This is a film that doesn’t feel the need to jettison the past, and several familiar faces pop up (which can’t have been that easy given how many members of Harry’s team were dead by the end of the show). For starters there’s Tim McInnerny as Oliver Mace, he may not have been seen in the show since series 5 but it’s still a nice nod to continuity, and however good the man is at playing the fool (see Blackadder for further details) he proves yet again that he’s equally adept at playing it straight, and he’s ably supported by David Harewood as Warrender and Jennifer Ehle as Maltby, and the triumvirate bring a strong dose of gravitas to their pivotal roles. Similarly, despite only having featured in the last series, Lara Pulver is back as Erin, and even Callum makes a reappearance, and though Nicola Walker is (for very obvious reasons) absent the ghost of Ruth casts a long shadow over Harry. Such nods to the show’s continuity could have risked putting new viewers off, but the references are handled deftly and I’m guessing to a newcomer Erin’s backstory is no different to Will’s or young MI5 agent June (played well by the wonderfully named Tuppence Middleton)

After playing Harry for so long, Firth appears effortless. Harry Pearce is at once the most ruthless bastard imaginable, whilst also being one of the noblest characters you could ever hope to encounter, and it’s a fine line that many an actor might have fallen either side of. His pain over Ruth is palpable, and when he talks about making decisions that mean the deaths of innocents to save many more, you can tell they’re not just words. Harry believes it, and he almost convinces you he’s right. He’s George Smiley and M rolled into one.

As Holloway Harington is equally good, there’s plenty of action, but also ample opportunity for him to actually act, and whilst Holloway might share the decent everyman character traits of Jon Snow, he’s clearly his own man and Harington puts in a good shift as an agent at once in control of his situation, yet also completely out of his depth, and the interplay between he and Firth is top drawer and their relationship utterly convinces, despite Holloway being a brand new character.

The film took a while to get going, but once it was I found myself enjoying it more with every passing minute. How successful it will be is hard to judge because its biggest strengths are also its greatest flaws. On the one side it should appeal to a wide audience, it’s more grounded in reality than the average Bond/Bourne spy thriller, but has a lot more action than something like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Of course the flipside of this is that those who like their le Carré might find the twists and turns in this simplistic, whilst those who like their Bond may find it lacking in the action department.

Personally I enjoyed the mix, it’s what made the show so good and they’ve carried it over into the film admirably. Yes the ‘terrorists want to blow up London’ plot was done many times during the show’s run, and despite trying to humanise him, Elyes Gabel’s Qasim is pretty much stock Islamic terrorist #3, but though some of the plot is predictable, it managed to surprise me on more than one occasion which is rare enough to ratchet this film up a few notches in my estimation.

A solid spy thriller that brings back a much loved character and introduces a new one who I’d like to see more of, I’m really hoping this does well enough to prompt Spooks 2

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Comments
  1. Mim says:

    Interesting! I didn’t like Spooks when it started, I found it too flashy, though I watched it in later years. Harry was always my favourite character.

    It’s all on Netflix at the mo and I was contemplating watching the whole lot, though my husband would probably protest!

  2. starkers70 says:

    It’s ‘mostly’ a great series…

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