Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Dark deeds in London Spy as Danny falls deeper into the hands of unscrupulous men

Good Grief!


Part three of BBC2 espionage drama London Spy was so Dense and Dark that it made me squirm.

Danny really is in a spot of bother. Arrested by armed police in the dead of night, his involvement in some dubious practices in the past with some very unsavoury characters, are brought back to haunt him in falsified evidence in the Attic Room where they allege, Alex and he had indulged in an auto asphyxiation experiment that had gone terribly wrong. 

They assert that the trunk that Alex had used in his car to store his rambling maps, was used for a seedier purpose and that a drug addled Danny had left him in too long and he had died. ( I had to look up "G" as I had no clue what it was... "GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) is a naturally occurring component of human cells. It is used most commonly in the form of a chemical salt which is taken recreationally as a depressant with effects quite similar to those of alcohol. These salts are powders but are most often mixed with water for recreational use."




To further incriminate him, the private conversation he had with Alex in his bedroom after meeting for the first time, is now presented as an incriminating recording of a telephone call and forensic evidence is planted on bedsheets.





Danny is forced to revisit spectres from his past. Mark Gatiss in superlative form plays ghoulish hedonist who smokes crack and likes young men en masse. A performance so chilling that I will never see Mycroft in the same light ever again, much should be made of the pure forces of nastiness that emanates from his every pore. Rich is a revolting human being and it makes it all the more heartbreaking that Danny had escaped the seedy underbelly of this life in his relationship with Alex/Alistair and yet his love for him and what Alex knew has drawn him back into it front and centre.





Things could not look anymore grim right? Sadly the tension and horror for young Danny is ratcheted up to a point of unbearable terror when a routine HIV test, that Danny knows should be negative suddenly comes back positive. His antibodies are reactive. He knows his promise to  Scottie has never been broken, he knows he has never risked infection , that both he and Alex were Negative and yet a double test shows him to be infected. The sheer level of duplicity necessary to discredit Alex and silence Danny here is incredible.






Scottie believes that he was deliberately infected. The thing I thought was a bullet in last week's episode was in fact an antiviral drug capsule given as a warning that Danny's life was in someone else's hands. This has all been orchestrated to create a sordid cloud around him; to utterly destroy his credibility so that whatever it was contained within the coded capsule currently nestled in a pipe in a factory, is never revealed.

Scottie dusts off his espionage hat and he and Danny set out for answers. Into the murky world of academia and the murkier one of private member's clubs where the great and the good of the Civil Service do all their real work. Harriet Walters and James Fox add Gravitas to proceedings as our intrepid pair realise that they stand against the Combined colossus of Secret Service power of not one, but every great world power united in keeping whatever Alex knew, from ever being made public. 




Ben Whishaw is utterly compelling, never before has every twitch, scratch and explosive exaltation of denial been delivered with such mesmerising authenticity. The long shot in the HIV clinic was a master class in subtle nuance. The dreamlike cinematography only added to the nightmarish quality of the scenes. Not in a long time has a show held me so taut and anxious. I was honestly breathless as he absorbed the enormity of his situation.

The ever brilliant Jim Broadbent is also incredible as friend ( but also possible foe) Scottie. His demeanour when Danny first met Alex pointed to jealousy and I am not ruling out a project to scupper the romance from an old hand in the espionage game! The scene where he describes a lover, obsessed the colour blue and one of the first to be infected in the eighties was again exceptional in the power of it's imagery and impact, further compounded by Jim Broadbent 's distracted delivery. This is British acting talent at it's zenith.


A cliffhanger ending of a ringing phone handed to him by Rich is a master stroke... I will most certainly be back for more!



Saturday, 21 November 2015

Ben Whishaw is fragile and out of his depth in new Spy Drama from BBC2


As is my way, I only realised this was on when the second episode was airing, but thanks to the magic of Catch Up , I have just done a "Double Bubble" viewing and cannot recommend this British Spy Drama more highly!

Danny ( Ben Whishaw) is lost. Living in a pretty disgusting Student flat complex, working in a warehouse and looking pretty down in the mouth sucking on his teeny tiny roll up cigarettes. He spends an awful lot of time on the banks of the Thames quite near to the MI6 building. One day he smashes his phone and handsome jogger  ( Edward Holcroft) stops, offers him a few moments of undivided attention and a isotonic drink and Danny is hooked.






Like a stalker he haunts the area  until he meets " Joe"  again and they begin a strange courtship.  Joe is odd to say the least, investment banker, so neat it is painful and much much older than his years. He likes country walks and is otherworldly in his demeanour.Danny  is messy both in his appearance and lifestyle but yet they are drawn to each other, two souls missing each other.



Of course this is a series called London Spy, so Joe is not who he seems. Alex as Danny comes to know him is not used to relationships and so their gentle drift into a love affair seems right, if a little unusual.


Danny is infinitely more experienced sexually and yet is also childlike and delicate. His only friend an older Whitehall civil servant, Scottie whose role in his life is revealed after Alex meets him for the first time and is grilled unmercilously. At  nineteen, Danny in a drug fuelled delusion has sex with multiple partners and turns to his acquaintance  who looks after him for a month while he goes through treatment to prevent HIV infection and they become a family of sorts. Jim Broadbent is tremendous in this role, but when is he ever bad?



Things turn sour when Alex fails to turn up for a weekend away and Danny spirals until he goes to the flat and in a bizarre torture attic finds the decomposing body of his lover in a trunk. Stealing a computer  chip from the crime scene, swallowing it before police arrive, he secretes it in a pipe in a disused factory.



The police question Danny about the death and they tell him that he was a spy, called Alistair and not the orphan he claimed to be  and engaged in sexual practices in BDSM. Danny is unconvinced and thinks his lover was murdered. All the while watched by as an as yet unseen chain smoker Danny starts his own project to prove this.




Giving a newspaper interview Danny is soon painted as a drug addled sex addict and he receives a call from Alistair's Parents to come visit. There follows the weirdest "meet the parents" I have ever witnessed. Suffice to say that Alistair's Mother played with chilling stillness by Charlotte Rampling) is one of the coldest and unfeeling women. She uses decoys to see if Danny is a gold digger, tells him blatant lies about Alistair's promiscuity, debunked within minutes by Danny whose own experience makes a liar of her. Alistair's Virginity was unequivocal.







Returning to London Danny discovers that Scottie had been a British Spy in his youth, forced out when his homosexuality was discovered in a sting operation from within the Organisation. He warns Danny to be careful and his warning proves prophetic as Danny is approached by an American, one presumes the chain smoker and a CIA agent ( played with panache by Clarke Peters) who threatens him and leaves him a little parting gift within a boiled sweet. A Bullet.





This was a TREMEDOUS start to an unusual and utterly gripping spy drama. Every character is perfectly cast and the darkness of the series, although bad for my eyes adds another ominous layer to the edginess of the piece.  Every Location is wonderfully picturesque be that the London Skyline or Forest and field of the countryside. I cannot wait for the next installment!

Thursday, 19 November 2015

**Spoiler Alert** River learns the truth in the last in this tremendous series.

Well we have reached an end. River knows exactly who killed Stevie.

I think the best thing about this reveal was the way it was not signposted. Like a real police investigation the pieces came together randomly and through an awful lot of digging and laborious sifting through lists.

The sad thing is that the guilty and the innocent were equally going to be affected by what was discovered.

Tom, the philandering Judge was completely and utterly blatant in his culpability in getting immigrants fast tracked through the leave to stay process. He was blackmailed so as to avoid wife Chrissie finding out about his affairs. The Lives of a prominent judge, a high ranked police officer and three children ruined.

Who was the architect of everyone's misery and the puppet master behind the actual murder?

Family friend and businessman Michael. Ira's research revealed the scam allowing illegals to get fast track appeals and things started to add up.  Stevie had known he was up to no good and had given an edict that Frankie was not to be involved.  Poor Frankie, gopher and slave to an overbearing mother and criminal "uncle". When his sounding board and only comfort Stevie seemed distant, he became fodder for Michael's insidious manipulations.

Stevie had tried so hard to protect him from this and the deep dark secret the Stevensons had been harbouring since Stevie's teens that, she and not nightmare motormouth mother Bridie was actually Frankie's mum, that at fourteen had fallen pregnant.

This the secret Stevie could never tell. This the reason for the £10,000 entrusted to River for Frankie's welfare and this ultimately led to the drunken shooting by her beloved boy of his very own mother made this doubly tragic.



The revelation of who Frankie's father was left a sour taste in my mouth and causes a River utter revulsion. The ultimate betrayal of trust. The whole truth might never be revealed, but the family who rallied around Frankie had obviously written Stevie off even before her loyalty to the police left them estranged.







Of course the reason why "River"  was such gripping television was the entities who haunted him since childhood. The risk that John might tip over the endless abyss into a psychotic break was always present and so for me it was how this part of his life might be resolved that really interested me and the awful revelations from Stevie's case was likely to be the catalyst especially with Thomas Cream forever looking on whenever River ever got close to describing his pain to anyone who might understand. 


The final catharsis, the anger at being deserted by his mother and his unspoken grief at losing Stevie is finally expressed at his group counselling session where he gives Cream a good pasting and releases the pain, one hopes exorcising  him for good from his subconscious as the manifestation of all that was guilt and despair and sadness within him. Eddie Marsan's look of bewildered surprise at being rejected was a sight to behold. Much kudos goes to him for playing off Stellen Skarsgard so beautifully, such expressive faces were made for these confrontations.


Finally able to find meaning to the awful events of Stevie's death, John is (ably supported by the young lady who tragically died in a failed suicide pact and the boy falsely accused of killing Stevie who fell to his death) getting ready for a date, but with a difference. He is reliving the last times he spent with Stevie. 

These scenes were heartbreaking. Here we saw the two of them together as they were, just starting to explore their feelings for each other. She desperately wants him to verbalise them, he was unable to do this and so he lost her before being able to tell her that he loved her so when he says what he should have said and her face breaks out in a beaming smile, it made me so sad and yet so glad for him.  There follows a sequence where they sing and dance and cuddle and almost.... But not quite ...share a kiss . 







Ira sees him and takes him for food and while he waits in the car, Stevie make a final appearance to tell John she loves him too and gently fades away. Touching and heartbreaking.

I worried for John that he would just give up and give into despair but it is certain Ira and his family will keep him from that. They seem to know just how to deal with him, so while it is with sadness we leave him, it is also with hope that he will continue to mend.


I cannot say enough about how much I have enjoyed this series and the central performance of Stellan Skarsgard was just outstanding, he projects and conveys emotions with so very little verbalisation. He is supported by a stand out performance from Nicola Walker as Stevie particularly in the latter episodes.  A love story seen in reverse and achingly tender to the last.