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London Spy



Ben Whishaw as Danny, and Edward Holcroft as Alex


Almost in despair that five perfectly good gigabytes of my monthly satellite data was hours away from expiring, I happened upon “London Spy,” on Netflix. It’s a BBC television drama from 2015 with five episodes. I watched the first two episodes last night. It’s fantastic.

I’ve looked up a couple of reviews this morning. Let’s just say that the reviews are “mixed.” Those that are critical are snarky. But pay no attention to the snarky reviews, because such reviews are aimed at simple folk who stream simpler fare about simpler characters. “London Spy” is for those who need a more challenging story diet. It’s beautifully written and beautiful to watch. It’s psychologically disturbing, and it’s excellent mystery of the sort that the British do so well. In the plot, a vulnerable London naif, because of love, gets pulled into a dangerous situation in which he is way over his head.

Ben Whishaw is Danny, a troubled underachiever and hopeless romantic who would like to get his life together. Edward Holcroft is Alex, whom Danny meets along the Thames riverfront when Danny is having a very bad day. Jim Broadbent is Scottie, a much older man whose care and attention have kept young Danny alive as Danny made mistakes that could have been fatal.

I had recently watched Whishaw as Richard II in “The Hollow Crown,” a superb 2015 high-budget version of Shakespeare’s play. Whishaw is an incredibly gifted actor who can play a king as convincingly as he can play a young London slacker with a drug problem.

Script writers rarely get mentioned, and that’s a shame. This script was written by Tom Rob Smith, a young British writer and novelist who is only 38.

Tom Rob Smith writes about the kind of characters that most people don’t care much about, people whose lives are usually lived in the shadows. Danny works in a warehouse. Scottie managed to survive a typical case of blackmail, moral destruction, and emotional isolation. And yet such characters occur and again and again in real life in all times and places. I recognize them because they are my own Jake and Phaedrus characters. They’re always in over their heads, they’re always in it for love, and if they can survive, then despite the scars and damage they always turn out to be more resourceful than we — or they themselves — thought them to be.


Jim Broadbent as Scottie

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