Sunday 14 June 2015

Spooks by Brackley and Vincent

Spooks was a British TV series created by David Wolstencroft, a spy thriller about the UK's internal intelligence service MI5. It ran for a record breaking ten seasons and was widely popular, though it never did much for me. I watched some of the early episodes, but gave up on it when Tom, played by Matthew Macfadyen suddenly and arbitrarily walked into the sea. I kept expecting him to walk back out again. When he didn't, I stopped watching Spooks.

Tom's watery disappearance wasn't the show's only problem. It really pissed me off that Spooks didn't have any on-screen titles. That meant that none of the cast or crew or — most importantly for me, none of the writers — ever received any credit. There was some bullshit notion that this lack of titles made the super-secret spy drama more convincingly super-secret. Or something. And there was the even more bullshit notion that anyone interested could look up the credits online. Freelancers working in television have a tough enough time without some creative geniuses dreaming up ways of stealing their credits from them.

The series was also, if memory serves, addicted to really dumb right-wing conspiracy theory plots. Which has a bearing on the new movie, spun off from the series, with the cumbersome title Spooks: The Greater Good.

First the good news. Spooks the movie is a very proficient spy thriller making wonderful use of its London locations. Director Bharat Nalluri (who also made The Crow: Salvation) and his editor Jamie Pearson do a great job on all the highly effective action and suspense sequences. And cinematographer Hubert Taczanowski (last seen working on The Face of an Angel — a film I disliked intensely, but certainly not for its cinematography) deserves special mention for his magnificent work here.

The cast is excellent, too, including faces from the original TV series (such as Peter Firth) with the canny addition of Kit Harington, one of the BSDBs (brooding stubbled dream-boats) from Game of Thrones as the lead.

The script by Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent, both of whom worked on the original series, is also well crafted, efficiently deploying plot elements, and even coming up with a twist ending which I didn't see coming. 

But there is a gaping hole in the movie. The whole story is driven by the notion that some Shadowy Conspiracy is afoot. Our hero Harry Pearce (Firth) can't come in from the cold because the Shadowy Conspirators will murder him and triumph in their Shadowy Conspiracy. And what is the conspiracy? The "Americans" want to discredit MI5 so they can "absorb it". What does this mean? It doesn't mean anything. The USA couldn't take over the British intelligence service without first taking over Britain.

So it's a non-threat. Worse than that, it's a purely abstract non-threat. It only exists in the movie in about three lines of dialogue. We never see it made real in the form of characters or story situations. You can't hang an entire movie on such a slender, indeed non-existent thread. This is a big problem for Spooks: the Greater Good. If you're going to have such a grim, serious, pretentious attitude you need to justify it. (I also don't think the physics of the suicide vest detonating against the bullet proof glass would have anything resembling the desired effect in the real world.)

But the bigger problem is that within an hour or so of seeing Spooks: the Greater Good I was sitting in another screen at the multiplex seeing another, vastly superior spy thriller making even more wonderful use of its London locations. It was called Survivor, it made Spooks pale by comparison, and I will tell you about it next week.

(Image credits: the movie posters are from Imp Awards. The TV show DVD cover is from Amazon.)


  1. BSDB haha

    Like you, I gave up on Spooks once Tom, Zoe and Danny - the original trio - left. I have an aversion to Rupert Penry Jones at the best of times. The working class chip on my shoulder grows larger and I suffer what can only be described as some kind of allergic reaction when he's playing our heroic lead and not the upper class twit he so naturally appears to be.

    But...Tom came back out of the water, do not fear. He came back and he resigned. Though I can't quite recall why other than to bring Penry Ponce into the fray. I believe Tom also resurfaced for the last ever episode if memory of online chatter serves.

  2. Ah -- I suspected he would Return From the Sea! Any idea approximately which episode this happened in? Many thanks for your info -- and for reading!

  3. I think it was in the 3rd season, but off the top of my head I wouldnt claim certainty