London Spy: TV Series Review
London Spy, is a BBC spy thriller series about a man whose MI6-operative lover is murdered. It stars Ben Whishaw as Daniel, Edward Holcroft as Alex and Jim Broadbent as Scottie.
London Spy: Logline
In London, a gay man discovers his MI6-operative lover dead. He suspects a cover up, but with the conspirators seemingly all-powerful he has to sacrifice everything to discover the truth.
London Spy: Plot Summary
Warning: My reviews contain spoilers. Major spoilers are blacked out like this secret . To view them, just select/highlight them.
Daniel, a lonely, gay man, meets Alex, a merchant banker. They begin an affair, but then Alex disappears. Daniel is sent the keys to Alex’s apartment, and when he goes there he discovers Alex is dead. He also discovers Alex was not telling him the truth, but was in fact an MI6 agent and that Alex has left him a locked cylinder that might hold the key to his death.
Daniel hides the cylinder. He tries to publicise his belief that Alex was murdered but the newspapers smear him. Meeting Alex’s parents, he suspects they are lying to him about Alex. Several people, including Alex’s mother, warn Daniel not to investigate Alex’s death, but he remains determined to find out who was responsible.
The police arrest Daniel and accuse him of murdering Alex. Afterwards, he discovers he is HIV positive, probably because he was infected during his arrest. Realising he has no way to fight his powerful enemies on his own, he tells Scottie about the cylinder. Scottie tries to find out what is behind the conspiracy, but finds himself stonewalled. Daniel receives a mysterious phone call.
The phone call leads to Daniel meeting a man who convinces Daniel he was hired to seduce Alex. Daniel gives up on discovering the secret of Alex’s death, but then he guesses the code to unlock the cylinder…
Inside is all of Alex’s research. Alex’s professor deciphers the research and tells Danny it’s a remote lie detector based on speech patterns. Scottie is abducted and murdered.
Daniel is distraught at Scottie’s death. Still determined to fight the conspiracy, he posts and then emails Alex’s research to the world’s media, but it is all intercepted. Daniel’s estranged parents visit him. Too late, Daniel realises it’s a trick to wipe the research from the cylinder. With only one printed copy of the research left, he goes to Alex’s mother again. She admits everything including not being Alex’s real mother. Alex tries to persuade her to join his hopeless crusade. She refuses, but after more revelations, including that she was present when Alex was killed, joins him.
London Spy: Analysis
London Spy is not strongly plot-driven, but has, broadly, a Conspiracy plot (see spy story ideas ).
The ‘Conspiracy’ Plot
- Witnesses an Inciting Incident with a group of Antagonists.
- Realises they are not safe from the Antagonists.
- Is also not safe from the authorities, as they are tricked or infiltrated by the Antagonists.
- Goes on the run, pursued by both the Antagonists and the authorities.
- Involves one or more Allies in their escape (Optionally, there is a romance sub-plot with one of the Allies).
- Narrowly avoids capture and death (or is captured and escapes) by both the Antagonists and the authorities.
- Discovers who the Antagonists are.
- Persuades the authorities they should work together to stop the Antagonists.
- Confronts the Antagonists and stops (or fails to stop) them.
Daniel doesn’t physically go on the run though, instead living with constant paranoia and dread, and as the antagonists are the authorities he has no hope of turning to them.
This is London Spy’s strong point, it’s beautifully acted by a cast of heavyweight actors. Ben Whishaw, Edward Holcroft and Jim Broadbent are all excellent.
London Spy is beautifully staged and the cinematography is great, but it’s moody, reflective and emotional – more Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy than Spectre . And even compared to Le Carré it’s slow and lacking in incident,
Other critics have argued that London Spy is not in fact a spy drama at all, but simply a drama dressed up with some spy motifs. It’s true that it’s slow-burning,and the conspiracy elements don’t make a lot of sense, but that’s because London Spy is Kafkaesque: the system is all-powerful, and Daniel is almost helpless.
This also perhaps explains away the main problem with the plot – why the antagonists don’t simply kill Daniel once they realise he will not be put off investigating Alex’s death. Why do they just keep making his life more and more difficult and unpleasant? What, from their point of view, is the point of toying with him? It seems like pure plot necessity – they can’t kill Daniel because then the story would be over. But placing the protagonist in a nightmarish and somewhat surreal situation with a faceless and omnipotent evil is typical of Kafkaesque drama.
The ending is also in keeping with the Kafkaesque theme, though I found it a little disappointing. Many people are saying it was a set up for Season Two, but to me it didn’t feel like a cliffhanger, wait-to-see-what-happens-next ending, but simply a restatement of the hopelessness of the individual fighting the system.
Reality: Gareth Williams
Gareth Williams was a GCHQ employee on secondment to MI6 who was found dead in his apartment, locked inside a bag. The inquest ruled he was murdered after experts showed it would have been virtually impossible for him to have locked himself in the bag. In 2015, a defector claimed the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service had murdered Williams to protect the identity of a mole in GCHQ.
London Spy: My Rating
Great drama, featuring exquisite cinematography and acting, be aware though that it’s not a thriller.
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