SPOILER WARNING: The following contains significant plot details for London Spy episode 2
London Spy episode 2 finds Danny (Ben Whishaw) in a state of mental disarray following Alex’s death. Convinced that the sex dungeon he discovered in Alex’s flat has been manufactured to create the false impression of a deviant sado-masochistic sex life as a convenient smoke screen for his murder, Danny is determined to clear his lover’s name.
An attempt to use the press to explain that Alex’s death was not the result of sexual misadventure backfires badly. Danny has no credible alternative explanation to propose and his words are spun into a sensationalist tabloid expose. After all, he didn’t even know Alex’s real name was Alistair. The resulting publicity leads to a request from Alex’s parents to visit them.
The first episode of London Spy played out as a tender romance until the shocking revelations of its final act. Some viewers who (wrongly) complained of a slow pace may have been anticipating that the series would now become a more familiar espionage thriller in which a neophyte detective investigates and uncovers secrets – perhaps aided by his older friend Scottie (Jim Broadbent), the former spy. While there was surely no dearth of mystery in episode two, viewers expecting a more conventional narrative will have been confounded. In fact, the series took a sharp left turn and headed to that little known Home Counties hamlet of Lower Weirdsbury.
Danny’s trip out of London leads him like Alice through the looking glass and into a shadow world where nothing is as it appears. Away from the contemporary architecture and glittering lights of Thames-side Vauxhall, he finds himself in an alien world of dank country manors. It’s unlikely the young urbanite had ever had to cross a house’s threshold by traversing a drawbridge before. The change of scenery is not any less suffused with veiled threats. ‘Leave well alone’ is the message Danny receives from Alex’s mother Frances (a vampiric performance from Charlotte Rampling).
Beautifully shot by cinematographer Laurie Rose, who has worked on all of Ben Wheatley’s films, the country house interiors were startlingly stylised. Corridors wallpapered in somber shadows. Gloomy drawing rooms. Interior design seemingly frozen in a previous decade. A garden featuring an intricate maze, perhaps a manifestation of the psychological puzzle Danny is trying to unravel. At times, the atmosphere became so heightened and abstract that it was reminiscent of another great left-field British spy drama, The Prisoner.
What continues to keep London Spy grounded and real are moments of genuine sadness that cut to the heart: Scottie’s harrowing story of being entrapped in a homosexual sting operation that ended his career in espionage; Danny’s remark on seeing Alex’s bedroom that it is ‘the loneliest room I have ever seen’; his anguish as he later slept in the bed, touching the sheets and pillows where his lover once slept. Writer Tom Rob Smith created the part specifically for Whishaw and he is absolutely brilliant in this series. A raw wounded performance of loss that is utterly heartbreaking.
Directed by Jakob Verbruggen
Written by Tom Rob Smith
Cast: Ben Whishaw; Jim Broadbent; Charlotte Rampling; Lorraine Ashbourne; David Hayman; Kate Dickie; Edward Holcroft
Review by Stuart Barr.
Did you tune in for London Spy episode 2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below – and don’t miss the next episode on Monday 23rd November at 9pm on BBC Two.