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Slow Horses S01/e01, e02 – Tinker, tailor, soldier, loser

SERIES REVIEW – Disgraced MI5 agent River Cartwright (Lowden) is assigned to the service’s notoriously useless Slough House unit. Still, even there, he finds a way to investigate the case of Hassan Ahmed (Aakeel), a young Muslim being held hostage by a far-right group who wants to execute him live on the internet. We watched the first two episodes of the series thanks to AppleTV+ streaming, free for six months on PlayStation 5.

 

 

Slow Horses doesn’t reinvent the spy thriller because the spy thriller doesn’t need to be reinvented. The Apple TV Plus series, based on award-winning crime novels by author Mick Herron, is no skimpy spy drama – with two episodes on April 1 and weekly after that – it goes back to basics, with a six-episode story of a kidnapping conspiracy through a story that is at once entertaining, often satirical, and at the same time realistic.

 

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James Bonds on a board – but that’s why they’re fun!

 

Rather than distracting with high-tech gadgets, CGI-filled chase scenes and/or inexplicable cocktail parties, The Last Runners relies on tried and tested suspenseful twists and turns. You’ll find it here if you’re looking for an excellent, slow-paced, point-to-point observational mystery.

Gary Oldman plays Jackson Lamb; a cynical intelligence agent tasked with overseeing the motley crew of Slough House, an administrative purgatory where MI5 rejects are left to languish. Enter River Cartwright, played by the superb Jack Lowden, stuck there after botching a critical training mission that left dozens dead and hundreds injured. This surprisingly public failure is made all the more embarrassing by the shadow of River’s retired spy grandfather, David Cartwright (played by Jonathan Pryce, known for many British spy films and thrillers, including Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond film In Tomorrow’s Grasp). His legendary past precedes even his grandson’s famous failure.

 

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Welcome to the “Slow Horses” section…

 

The film opens with a spectacularly staged action sequence set in an airport, which would have been appropriate for a Bond or Bourne film. Kristin Scott Thomas, who has proved she would make a brilliant M, is MI5’s operations chief, Diana Taverner, who watches from the vast, glitzy spy headquarters as young agent River Cartwright (Jack Lowden) goes to great lengths to mess up his mission to capture a suspected terrorist bomber. But this fast-paced, tense action sequence soon turns out not to be all it’s cracked up to be, and it only makes the series all the more daring and extraordinary.

After the adrenaline-pumping opening, the storytelling shifts into a calmer but even more gripping direction when Cartwright is sent to Slough House, the criminal investigation division of MI5 – a grim, back-street London office that houses a seemingly pointless administration department run by veteran misanthropist Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman). The grimy, seedy location bears no relation to the dazzling headquarters of the counter-intelligence agency where the immensely cynical, burnt-out boss Lamb bullies his subordinates – especially Lowden. This is the primary setting for Mick Herron’s 2010 novel The Last Runners Up and the other 11 books in his ‘Slough House’ series.

If anything, this series is more The Office than Casino Royale. Whereas Jason Bourne and James Bond present the exciting, fast-paced, action-packed, success-oriented aspect of espionage, and John le Carré’s George Smiley is in the dignified middle ground (but also more credible), Jackson’s Lamb is shamelessly vegetating at the bottom of the ladder, with his entire staff of anonymous nobodies with wasted careers.

 

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Tatterdemalion George Smiley

 

It’s a welcome and clever casting move to have Lamb played by the great Gary Oldman, more than a decade after his epic, Oscar-nominated version of Smiley in his category in the excellent 2011 film Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. His performance here is a masterpiece of topless, profane indifference, as he, for example, puts on his holey socked feet in his office while farting loudly. But at other times, too, you can almost constantly smell the musty odour emanating from his old, shabby suit as he rules his crumbling empire with gloating hostility, trying to prevent any of them from actually doing any proper spy work.

And yet… there are signs that Lamb, deep down, almost, almost, a little, cares. At one point, during a fascinating conversation with Scott Thomas’s cool boss Taverner, he explains that although his team are a bunch of pretentious losers and he’s their chimpanzee, Lamb himself was once an absolute spy legend. Writer Will Smith (Veep) and director James Hawes (Penny Dreadful) do a great job convincing us that this is probably what intelligence could be like while giving this mob a highly entertaining plot to solve.

 

 

Entertaining Horses

 

Slow Horses is a series of often cynical, satirical, yet authentic spy stories populated by many funny, engaging, misguided and boozy losers, as described in the wonderfully atmospheric Mick Jagger theme song lyrics. Despite all this, it hardly reinvents the wheel, mostly settling for recycling spy story archetypes, with a few minor twists here and there. But when it’s all this entertaining, and the brilliant Gary Oldman is more brilliant than ever, it’s hard to complain about the end result.

-BadSector-

SERIES REVIEW - Disgraced MI5 agent River Cartwright (Lowden) is assigned to the service's notoriously useless Slough House unit. Still, even there, he finds a way to investigate the case of Hassan Ahmed (Aakeel), a young Muslim being held hostage by a far-right group who wants to execute him live on the internet. We watched the first two episodes of the series thanks to AppleTV+ streaming, free for six months on PlayStation 5.     Slow Horses doesn't reinvent the spy thriller because the spy thriller doesn't need to be reinvented. The Apple TV Plus series, based on award-winning crime…
Slow Horses is a series of often cynical, satirical, yet authentic spy stories populated by many funny, engaging, misguided and boozy losers, as described in the wonderfully atmospheric Mick Jagger theme song lyrics. Despite all this, it hardly reinvents the wheel, mostly settling for recycling spy story archetypes, with a few minor twists here and there. But when it's all this entertaining, and the brilliant Gary Oldman is more brilliant than ever, it's hard to complain about the end result.

Slow Horses

Direction - 8.2
Actors - 8.6
Story - 8.2
Action/Visuals - 7.6
Ambience - 8.2

8.2

EXCELLENT

Slow Horses is a series of often cynical, satirical, yet authentic spy stories populated by many funny, engaging, misguided and boozy losers, as described in the wonderfully atmospheric Mick Jagger theme song lyrics. Despite all this, it hardly reinvents the wheel, mostly settling for recycling spy story archetypes, with a few minor twists here and there. But when it's all this entertaining, and the brilliant Gary Oldman is more brilliant than ever, it's hard to complain about the end result.

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