SPOILER WARNING: The following contains significant plot details for London Spy episode 5
London Spy struck its first flat note with an exposition heavy penultimate episode. Alex had formulated a code that would bring about the ‘end of lies’. This digital Rosetta Stone would end diplomacy, laying bare what everyone really thought. For this he was murdered. When Danny, Alex’s lover, started to ask inconvenient questions he was ruthlessly discredited and framed. Now Danny has discovered the truth he and those he has shared information with are in great danger from the dark forces behind Alex’s death.
Danny’s closest confidante, the former spy Scottie, is killed and his murder is staged to look like suicide. Danny is more isolated than ever. Increasingly desperate, he wants to get Alex’s work to the media. He mails out manuscripts to newspapers, but in the middle of the night finds the envelopes left in his garage. The enclosed manuscripts are now blank. With the evidence erased Danny returns to the home of Alex’s mother Frances seeking to understand at least who his lover was and how he came to be a spy.
The final part of Child 44 author Tom Rob Smith’s series confidently returned London Spy to form. The details of Alex’s code cracking were not what this story is about, merely the ‘macguffin’ that instigated the action. The real mystery was Alex himself and Danny’s quest to understand if their love was genuine, or part of a constructed identity. From Frances Danny finds his answers and the harrowing truth of how Alex came to die in a suitcase was revealed.
This was a spy thriller with little procedural detail, a drama with gay characters that wasn’t solely about being gay. A mystery expertly laced with red herrings that wrong footed us every step of the way. Rob Smith’s scripting made a potentially implausible conspiracy acceptable because it was background for a compelling character-based story of romance and loss.
Director Jakob Verbruggen gave the series a consistent style and – especially for Londoners – an incredible sense of place (it is surely the most Vauxhall has featured in a recent TV drama). Cinematographer Laurie Rose brought experience in shooting feature film resulting in a series drenched in visual flair.
The cast has been superb. In this episode Charlotte Rampling was outstanding playing Frances, by turns a sinister figure and a forlorn mother. Nonetheless, it has been Ben Whishaw as Danny who has been the heart of the drama. The role was written for the actor and it is not possible to imagine anyone else in the part. In scenes such as his horrifying HIV test, or in this episode a support meeting for men living with HIV, Whishaw has been deeply moving. Far from a typical thriller protagonist, Danny’s vulnerability and naivety has been balanced by his remarkable commitment to the truth and his unshakable conviction that the love he shared with Alex was real, despite evidence to the contrary.
London Spy has been complete bliss, a shining but dark jewel of a television drama. I expect it to be garlanded with awards soon.
Directed by Jakob Verbruggen
Written by Tom Rob Smith
Cast: Ben Whishaw; Jim Broadbent; Charlotte Rampling; Lorraine Ashbourne; David Hayman; Adrian Lester; Harriet Walter; Edward Holcroft
Review by Stuart Barr.
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