SPOILER WARNING: The following contains significant plot details for London Spy episode 1
Danny (Ben Whishaw) – a young man enjoying a hedonistic lifestyle on London’s gay scene – exits a nightclub into the cold light of dawn coming down hard. Alone and bereft standing on Lambeth Bridge, only a chance encounter with a jogger pulls him back from the brink.
Later hoping there was mutual attraction, Danny takes to jogging around the area at 5AM in the hopes of seeing the runner again. Eventually his wish is granted. Alex (Edward Holcroft) is painfully shy, ordered to the point of being borderline OCD, wealthy, not part of the gay scene and not ‘out’. However, opposites attract and the two men fall in love and begin a relationship. Danny takes this commitment to the next level by introducing Alex to Scottie (Jim Broadbent) an older gay man and friend who we learn had supported him at a difficult point in his life.
Eight months into their relationship Danny tells Alex about a troubling and dark episode from his past, and the next day his lover fails to arrive for a planned meeting. At first Danny assumes it is that he has revealed painful truths about his sexually reckless past. However, it soon becomes apparent that Alex has disappeared.
The opening episode of London Spy, an original series from Child 44 author Tom Rob Smith, demonstrates how the larger storytelling canvas offered TV drama can occasionally trump film. A movie would have compressed this love story into a first act taster for a main dish of mystery.
The title of the series does indicate that Alex is probably not the banker he tells Danny he is. Other telling details include the unusually high security outside Alex’s Lambeth flat, the constant looming presence of the SIS Building over the Vauxhall locations, and the slightly paranoid way he looks at cars in his rear view mirror. Danny divulges his past because he doesn’t want any secrets between them, but Alex’s life is entirely secretive. Alex is a spy.
Confidently directed by Jakob Verbruggen (who has directed episodes of The Fall and The Bridge), London Spy episode one hinted at darker mysteries with references to Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch. Danny looking out his bedroom window into neighbours flats was a clear nod to Rear Window. The scene where Scottie and Alex meet took place in a restaurant with a Kabuki cabaret echoing Blue Velvet’s karaoke scene. Even the casting of Whishaw and Holcroft brings associations with spy cinema. Whishaw can currently be seen as Q in the latest James Bond epic, and Holcroft recently played a trainee secret agent in the spy movie parody Kingsman.
The revelations that ended the episode moved into dark territory clearly inspired by the real life 2010 case of a GCHQ employee found dead in his flat inside a padlocked holdall. Danny’s world collapses: he thought he had discovered the love of his life, now he finds he may not even have known his name.
London Spy promises to become a gripping outsider’s view of the murky world of espionage.
Directed by Jakob Verbruggen
Written by Tom Rob Smith
Cast: Ben Whishaw; Edward Holcroft; Jim Broadbent; Samantha Spiro
Review by Stuart Barr.
Did you tune in for London Spy episode 1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below – and don’t miss the next episode on Monday 16th November at 9pm on BBC Two.